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Trump Tensions Scare Off Binational Consumers

A cashier returns change at Carolin Shoes Inc. at Abbys Wholesale and Retail ...

Photo by Kris Arciaga

Above: A cashier returns change at Carolin Shoes Inc. at Abbys Wholesale and Retail in San Ysidro, Feb. 20, 2017.

San Ysidro clothing and accessory shops like Carolin Shoes Inc. have long drawn Mexican shoppers because of affordable prices and proximity to Tijuana.

But business owners are reporting a significant drop in sales since President Donald Trump was elected. Olivia Campos, the owner of Carolin Shoes Inc., said sales have plummeted 70 percent.

"There are clients who used to cross two or three times a week for merchandise ... but now those people only come once a week," she said.

Campos said when she asks her customers what is going on, many say Trump's hardline stance on immigration has made them afraid to cross the border at all.

She said they fear that the more often they cross, the more they expose themselves to the possibility of getting their legal status revoked for some unexpected reason.

“They’re afraid they’ll take their passports, green cards — some people say (customs officials) are even checking cell phones," she said.

Other factors are aggravating the problem of fear and discouraging cross-border shopping:

-The Mexican peso is plummeting, which has hurt the purchasing power of Mexicans.

-Mexicans who are angry about Trump's rhetoric on immigration are organizing boycotts of U.S. products on both sides of the border.

-Protests of rising gas prices in Mexico have resulted in repeated closures of the southbound port of entry on weekends.

-Finally, border crossers report that Mexico has been taking a more hardline stance toward southbound travelers in recent months. They believe Mexico is doing this as a retaliation for Trump's immigration proposals.

Photo by Kris Arciaga

Mexican shopper Delia Frasco looks at shoes at Carolin Shoes Inc., Feb. 20, 2017.

For decades, Mexico has been famously easy to enter in comparison with the United States. Unlike U.S. customs officials, who check the documents of every person who enters the country through a port of entry, Mexican customs officials rarely check for identification. Border crossers told KPBS that's changing.

Delia Frasco, a 68-year-old Mexican woman with a green card, was shopping at Carolin Shoes Inc. on Monday. She said two weeks ago, a Mexican customs official asked her for her Mexican passport when she was crossing back into Tijuana.

"I said, why are you asking me that, you didn't used to ask for it before ... they're like, 'Oh because we need more border security,'" Frasco said.

Frasco added that a Mexican customs officials also made her pay a $60 tax to bring over a used blanket she had purchased in San Ysidro. She said this makes her less inclined to buy merchandise in San Ysidro.

She said she also fears U.S. customs officials might for some reason decide to take her green card away, so she is trying to keep her border crossings to a minimum.

The owner of Carolin Shoes Inc. said binational tensions are hurting business so much that she's running out of money to pay her employees.

"We're seeing such a drop (in sales), especially this month, we've really taken a hit," Campos said.

She said she hopes Mexico and the U.S. improve their relationship soon.

Trump was supposed to meet with Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto to discuss the binational relationship earlier less than a month ago, but the meeting was canceled due to a Twitter argument between the two leaders regarding who was going to pay for Trump's wall.

"Every day, it's more tense on both sides of the border," Campos said.

Store owners in San Ysidro said fewer Mexicans are coming across the border to shop for clothes and other items. They said customers are frightened by President Trump's hard-line immigration stance.


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