U.S. land borders open but delays keep families apart

By Annya Loya / NM News Port

Pilar Campos and her family have not been able to see relatives in Mexico since January of 2021, including her oldest adult son. The pandemic caused temporal closures of the U.S.-Mexico border and of consulates, making it difficult for both sides to be reunited with each other. 

“We’re desperate for this to go back to normal,” Campos said.

Campos constantly wishes she was in Mexico with him or for him to come to the United States.

She is one of the many affected by this situation. A Mexican citizen, she lives in the United States with her husband and young son on a visa for spouses of U.S. workers. Campos said she hoped to see her family every couple of months but due to the pandemic, changes in the visa system made that impossible.

Since March 2020, crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has been limited to necessary travel — citizens and lawful permanent residents, students going to school in the United States, people seeking medical attention, those working in the United States, among other reasons. 

Visiting families who live in the United States was not one of those reasons. 

The closure of the U.S-Mexico border due to the COVID-19 pandemic created long-term separations between Mexican and American families due to travel restrictions which relaxed Oct. 21. 

In 2020 the Consulate General of the United States of America in Juarez, — across the border from El Paso, Texas— issued 29,242 immigrant visas. Back in 2019, the same consulate issued 54,780 immigrant visas, almost double the numbers. 

Meanwhile, Campos has not seen her eldest son since January of 2020, because he’s been unable to get a visa due to the restrictions. 

“You have your programmed date with the consulate and as that date approaches it gets moved,” Campos said, adding she hopes to finally get it done in December. 

More uncertainty comes to the Campos family as their visa renewal approaches, fearing their appointment will be moved again. Neither the Mexican nor American governments have communicated the situation well to these families.  

Some visa renewal dates coming up in the next couple of months are the product of constant delays since the beginning of the pandemic. However, people applying for their first visa or a change to an existing visa say their appointments are being bumped after the summer of 2022. 

Still, families hope that more appointments become available sooner as consulates and bridges begin opening.

Visas were not the only type of documents delayed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many immigrant families faced uncertainty regarding green card appointments and approval. 

Ana Becerra and her family were living in South Carolina, working on getting their green cards approved when the pandemic hit.

“We lived in uncertainty about what was going to happen,” Becerra said in Spanish during an interview. “It paralyzed us.”

“Generally, nonimmigrants must depart the United States before their authorized period of admission expires. However, we recognize that nonimmigrants may unexpectedly remain in the United States beyond their authorized period of stay,” the department’s Citizenship and Immigration Services website advises. Nonimmigrants, those who don’t intend to stay in the country, but to return to Mexico, may apply for an extension and the department said it would be flexible for late extensions.

 While the U.S Department of State is not worried about people overstaying certain visas, it’s also not focused on processing new ones any more quickly. 

Becerra said that she and her family have not been able to see their relatives in Mexico since early this year, partially because of the visa problem and partially due to cost. Currently, visa appointments are promised by the American consulates in Mexico to take place in late November, but the uncertainty for families stuck in limbo is still there. 

 Separation of families has taken a toll on the mental health of the individuals affected 

Becerra said she and her family experienced a lot of stress during the first months of the pandemic, saying it was hard on them emotionally and the virus reminded them of the importance of mental health. 

The New Mexico Immigrant Law Center provides legal assistance to low-income immigrants living in New Mexico. Lindsey Gabaldon, a volunteer at the NMILC, said that the organization has shown a lot of support to distressed families during the hardships of the pandemic. 

Even as the bridges apparently will open and the consulates start giving out appointments, it seems that these families still have a long way before reuniting with their loved ones. 

Annya Loya is a reporter for New Mexico News Port and she can be contacted at annyaloya@gmail.com or on Twitter @annyaloyadl