UT students discuss separation from family after Biden eases COVID-19 travel restrictions

Marisa Huerta, News reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the November 2 flipbook.

The Biden administration will lift COVID-19 travel restrictions for fully vaccinated international travelers Nov. 8., and some UT students are happy to finally be able to see loved ones.

The White House announced in October it would reopen land borders with Mexico and Canada after closing them in March 2020. The new policy allows cross-travel between countries for those who are fully vaccinated, according to The Texas Tribune. Additionally, Biden lifted COVID-19 travel restrictions for noncitizen international travelers who are fully vaccinated and for U.S. citizens with a negative COVID-19 test according to The New York Times.

Business freshman Marley Gomez said when Biden implemented the travel ban, she had to go through the college application process by herself, as she was unable to visit her parents in Mexico. 

“It was a very monumental year for me because it was my senior year, so all those different milestones, I had to go through them alone,” Gomez said. “In retrospect, it kind of helped me grow a lot, so now that I’m in college, I can be a lot more independent, but (not having my parents with me) was certainly something very limiting.”

Gomez said the border restrictions stripped her away from her family, which left her feeling isolated. She was only able to communicate with them over the phone but felt it was not the same, especially when she asked for college advice.

“It would have been easier (without the ban) because I would have had my parents in front of me, and I would have been able to explain everything step-by-step,” Gomez said. “Everything had to be through the phone or FaceTime, and it was laggy sometimes or they would understand me, but I wouldn’t understand them.”

Gomez said once the ban is completely lifted, she will spend Thanksgiving with her family and show them around Austin during break.

Karina Peña, a Latin American studies senior, said during the 18-month travel ban, she was unable to see her aunt and younger cousin who moved to Australia before the pandemic. Now with Biden’s announcement that allows international minors to travel without vaccination with proof of a negative COVID-19 test, Peña can finally see her four-year-old cousin.

“It’s important to make those connections with family members when they’re still young, because she’s growing up in a completely foreign country where we might not be able to have a good relationship,” Peña said.

Psychology senior Maya Shankar said changing travel restrictions between her home country of Spain and the U.S. made reconnection with her family difficult. Once Biden’s new policies take effect, Shankar will be able to see her family without any confusion.

“I definitely felt really alone here,” Shankar said. “Obviously I have my friends, but being so far away from our family, I just felt like I didn’t know what was gonna happen. I didn’t know what was gonna happen to me.” 

Peña said she is glad her relatives can finally visit from overseas, but she is still cautious about the virus. 

“I think it’s important, especially in these earlier phases where people are starting to travel again, that people are making sure that they’re vaccinated … because it’s much more dangerous when people are not vaccinated,” Peña said.