Holiday travel to Mexico continues amid pandemic

Lines of Mexico-bound cars wait for the chance to cross the U.S.-Mexico border at the DeConcini port of entry in the twin border cities of Ambos Nogales on Dec. 17, 2020. Inspections by Mexican customs officers have increased crossing times as more Mexican Americans head to Mexico to spend the holidays with relatives, despite restrictions on non-essential travel at the border.

As COVID-19 infections and deaths surged in Arizona ahead of the holidays, Angelica Cueto and her husband loaded their Suburban SUV in metro Phoenix with gifts and set out east, across New Mexico then south, over the U.S. border to their final destination: Mexico. 

The 54-year-old industrial electrician and U.S. permanent resident has lived in the U.S. for more than three decades, moving from job to job across the Southwest. But the years away have only intensified the pull of her homeland and the family who remain there, she said.

Cueto especially misses her elderly mother, who has a visa to visit the U.S. but is unable to travel because of her age.

For hundreds of thousands of Mexican Americans, the annual pilgrimage to Mexico in December to visit parents and family is a sacred ritual that even a global COVID-19 pandemic and U.S. border restrictions to stem the spread of the virus have been unable to stop.