Border Reopening Means Binational Families Can Finally Spend Holidays Together

Families spread across the U.S.-Mexico border will have an easier time tethering for the holidays this year thanks to relaxed travel restrictions at land borders

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Cesar Michel is hyped for the holidays and a return to his family's traditional large gatherings.

“The family is already excited about it. There’s already planning going on,” Michel said.

That planning is in effect since pandemic border restrictions were relaxed Monday morning, allowing vaccinated, non-essential travelers into the United States -- Restrictions that kept cross-border families apart for nearly 20 months.

NBC 7's Mari Payton takes a look at pedestrian and vehicle wait times at the border on its first day of full reopening.

“We're a big family, so we’re not used to not being around each other for too long. So that was weird," Michel said.

Even more so for Michel's mother who lives in Mexicali, Mexico. Not only did the border restrictions keep her away from family in San Diego, Michel says she survived COVID-19 after being hospitalized in August and couldn't be with her family during last year's holiday season.

“Last year we passed the phone around for Christmas for everyone to talk. My mother and older family members were sad. We take it for granted. Mom was crying at the end of the facetime because she's never had Christmas without her grandkids, without us," Michel said.

After a year apart, the family briefly reunited in Eastlake during a baptism for Michel's nephew, but following pandemic guidelines to get grandma there from Mexicali wasn't easy.

“She drove from Mexicali to Tijuana, flew to Mexico City and had a six-hour layover. And from Mexico City to LAX. We went to pick her up at LAX and didn't tell anybody. Then the day of the baptism, gramma was there, for the first time in a year. It was cool. A lot of people cried,” Michel chuckled.

Tears of joy are expected again this holiday season for families like the Michels as the border reopens and family traditions return.

“It’s just everyone being together. Like I said, Zoom is cool, but it's not the same,” said Michel.

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