Border Communities React To Trump’s State Of The Union Address
Wednesday, January 31, 2018
Photo by Win McNamee AP
Border Communities React To Trump's State Of The Union Address
Jean Guerrero, Fronteras Reprter, KPBS News
Across San Diego, the President's comments during his first State of the Union address may have deepened rifts on border security.
The morning after President Trump's first State of the Union address, San Diego's divisions on the topic of border security were literal and stark.
Home to the country's busiest port of entry and the prototypes for President Trump's border wall, the site of the first U.S.-Mexico border fences in the early 20th century, San Diego is often ground zero for policy changes pertaining to immigration and the wall.
Immigrant rights activists organized watch parties, whacking apart piñatas of the wall prototypes with wooden poles. Some watched from inside their homes. Others went to bed early, more interested in getting up before dawn for a glimpse of the super blue blood moon, than Trump's remarks.
Many San Diego residents saw Trump's address as polarizing when it came to the topic of border security. The President highlighted the case of two teenage girls murdered by the MS-13 gang, featuring the grief-stricken family's faces on national television.
"It just painted such a negative picture, and it doesn’t acknowledge any of the economic benefits of immigration," said Paola Avila, vice president of international business affairs for the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Avila said she found it "dangerous" that Trump repeatedly mentioned the violent MS-13 gang and the American lives it has claimed, a feature of the speech she thought was designed to fuel fear and outrage about immigration in general.
She said the business community in San Diego was alarmed by this because of the local economy's dependence on cross-border trade and immigrant workers.
"You’re feeding into fears or misperceptions for people that will take you out your word, for people who don’t specialize in these policies," Avila said. "They have busy lives, they have their own jobs, they rely on leaders for information, leaders such as our President."
While Trump reiterated his commitment to finding a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million "Dreamers," or people who came to the U.S. illegally as children, he also repeated his demand for a border wall. Disagreements regarding the border wall have repeatedly kept Congress from reaching an agreement on immigration this month.
In San Diego, many residents were hoping Trump would avoid the topic of the wall because of its inherent divisiveness and the fact that it has become a roadblock in negotiations regarding the fate of the Dreamers.
Some immigrant rights advocates in the region found that most of them support increased border security measures such surveillance technology and more U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the ports of entry, but not a physical wall.
They believe a wall stronger than the existing one would be needlessly expensive, leading to a rerouting of illegal traffic into the ocean (via panga boats), into the sky (via drones), into the earth (via underground tunnels) and into the remote desert — a trend seen in the 1990s and early 2000s.
"They built fences where they needed to build them," said Jason Wells, chief executive of San Ysidro's Chamber of Commerce. "Now we need to be looking at technology."
Calls for a wall and Trump's hardline stance on immigration have hurt business in south San Diego, Wells said. Mexicans are boycotting U.S. products and choosing to shop in Tijuana instead of San Diego. Others are crossing the border less frequently due to fears about having their visas taken away by customs officers.
Wells said Trump has already built a "psychological wall" that caused a 35 percent drop in revenues for businesses in San Ysidro during the first year of his administration.
Resentment about Trump's rhetoric in Mexico has also fueled the rise of a populist candidate for president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who appears less willing to cooperate with the U.S. than any Mexican president in recent history. This could have a direct impact on the number of jobs and the cost of goods in San Diego.
"We're not opposed to border enforcement per se," said Christian Ramirez, the human rights director for Alliance San Diego. "What we're saying is let's have border policy that is not going to undermine our environment, that is not going to stifle the economic vitality of the region."
But some San Diego residents were happy about Trump's mention of the wall, particularly in East County's rural areas, where much of the illegal cross-border traffic was pushed after border enforcement was ramped up around the city of San Diego under the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations.
"I resent having a wall, but with the talk of amnesty, our illegal immigration traffic has increased out here, and I've had to call Border Patrol more in the last month than in the last year," said Donna Tisdale, a Boulevard resident.
Joshua Wilson, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council's San Diego chapter, said the speech left Border Patrol agents hopeful that a wall will be built, making their jobs safer and easier.
"It’s just nice to have a commander in chief who supports us in our mission," he said.
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