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Border & Immigration

Decision to close PedWest will do more damage to cross-border economy, experts say

The decision Thursday by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to close the PedWest pedestrian crossing in San Ysidro will exacerbate already long border wait times that local business leaders say are negatively impacting the region’s workforce and economy.

“If you’re waiting three hours on foot in line, you’re not necessarily crossing to do some shopping or have coffee with a friend,” said Joaquin Luken, executive director of the Smart Border Coalition.

CBP officials said they needed to close the crossing so agents could be freed up to respond to an increase in migrants, primarily asylum seekers, being held in a makeshift camp between the primary and secondary border walls, according to a statement released Thursday.


“The temporary suspension at PedWest will allow CBP’s Office of Field Operations to assist the U.S. Border Patrol in processing noncitizens who have arrived between the ports of entry,” the statement read.

CBP planned to, “work to normal operations as quickly as feasible,” but offered no clear timetable.

“CBP will open as many lanes as possible at the PedEast crossing to accommodate those who typically use PedWest,” the statement read.

Migrants interviewed by KPBS earlier this week said they slept outside with no protection from the elements and were not provided restrooms. Women said they went to the bathroom in nearby bushes and used pieces of cardboard as privacy screens.

Asylum seekers crossing into the United States for the first time were grateful for the opportunity.


“I’m very happy to be here,” said Juan Eloy Diaz de Arma, a Spanish-speaking asylum seeker from Cuba.

In May, during an earlier influx in migration, CBP created a similar makeshift camp in the same location. However, the agency did not close PedWest during that period.

Bad timing

There are approximately 60,000 people who live in Tijuana and commute to work in San Diego County every day.

“These are nurses working in hospitals, people working in the service industry, in the restaurant industry,” Luken said. “This is a major strain on the community.”

CBP previously closed PedWest in April 2020 when the pandemic hit and then only partially reopened it in January of this year — allowing northbound traffic between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily.

When it's fully open, approximately 18,000 cross through PedWest each day. During the partial reopening, the number of daily users dropped to 4,000, according to data from CBP.

This week's closure also comes at a particularly difficult time for San Ysidro businesses that are still struggling to recover from the previous closures.

More than 200 businesses shut down during the pandemic, according to Jason Wells, executive director of the San Ysidro Improvement Corporation.

Even before Thursday’s closure of PedWest, border wait times were already at record highs, according to Kenia Zamarripa, executive director of international business affairs at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“We’re hugely disappointed to hear this news,” she said.

A 2021 report from the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) states that the long wait times cause San Diego and Tijuana lose about $13.4 billion in lost economic output every year, impacting roughly 88,000 jobs. Without additional improvements to the region’s port of entry, the economic loss could grow up to more than $5 billion by 2025, the report states.

“We can talk numbers, but this is a huge setback and it’s not only a challenge but a real threat to our economy,” Zamarripa said.

Organizations like Smart Border Coalition and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce meet with CBP personnel on a regular basis to discuss ongoing cross-border mobility issues.

Luke and Zamarripa said they were both appreciative of CBP’s willingness to work with local stakeholders. But they both stressed the region’s need to have an efficient port of entry.