A Year After Border Shutdown, Local Leaders Say The Chaos Strengthened Ties With Tijuana
KPBS Midday Edition Segments / December 5, 2019
Speaker 1: 00:00 We recently passed an anniversary that many would be happy to forget. It's just over a year ago that the San Ysidro border was completely shut down for five hours to stop members of an immigrant caravan from crossing the border, the shutdown and subsequent threats from president Trump to repeat a border shutdown sent shockwaves through our binational way of life in San Diego and Tijuana. But as a voice of San Diego report has found it also strengthened those by national ties against any future threats. Joining me is Maya Sri Krishnan who writes about the border and immigration issues for voice of San Diego. And my welcome. I thank you for having me. Remind us how the shutdown of the San Ysidro port of entry unfolded last year and it was over the Thanksgiving weekend.
Speaker 2: 00:48 Yes. So it was the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2018 and initially what was supposed to happen, um, where there were all these migrants who had traveled up in the caravan who were staying in Tijuana and they were, they had planned a peaceful March, um, towards the port of entry, basically just to, you know, ask that their rights be respected to um, to seek asylum. And at some point close to the port of entry, they reached a police blockade and a group of the protesters actually ran around. The blockade, ran through, um, a canal that is, um, in the 200 river and directly to the ports of entry and to, um, a series of sections along the border fence. And as a response, um, U S customs and border protection shut down the San Ysidro port of entry completely. Uh, and a little bit after that border patrol agents also threw tear gas. Is it certain portions of the fence where there were migrants who, um, they said at the time were throwing rocks or being overly aggressive. Uh, and the port of entry was shut down for five hours that day.
Speaker 1: 01:58 And you spoke with local officials and poured over emails leading up to that day. What have you learned about the days leading up to that shutdown?
Speaker 2: 02:07 They were very tense locally. I think a lot of the local officials who are very involved in the border, um, they knew that people locally were going to be impacted most by a border shutdown and by the caravan. Um, just from the nature of traffic impacts, um, a lot of families who live cross-border lives and are constantly trying to cross, um, you know, that's sort of our reality in the region. And they were definitely aware of the fact that these constant disruptions were going to impact our economy and impact our residents. Um, but the problem was was that they really didn't have any power to prevent the federal government from shutting things down. Um, they really weren't given a ton of information about what could happen, um, or what they should do. So, you know, they really tried to get as much information as they can and play sort of this intermediary role between the federal government and local businesses and residents who are most impacted by the shutdown. Um, because the Sunday shutdown was, it was the big one, you know, it was the one that was completely shut down for five hours, but there had been disruptions that were happening for weeks leading up to that day. Um,
Speaker 1: 03:21 how much of an economic impact did the border closure have?
Speaker 2: 03:24 It probably had a bigger one than we realize, but what we do know is that it costs San Ysidro businesses over $5 million. I'm going to cost you on a businesses over $6 million. I'm at the very least, there are probably some other things that we don't even know about and that we aren't able to calculate. Um, but that is the impact that we were able to measure afterwards. But
Speaker 1: 03:46 you say that that sort of information and that sort of cooperation cross border is something positive that came out of the shutdown. Tell us about that.
Speaker 2: 03:57 That's what everyone told me. You know, we have a series of people, um, in Tijuana and San Diego who have basically spent their careers working on border issues. Um, many of them have cross border lives themselves. Uh, you know, even our mayor has someone who works full time on by national affairs. Uh, we have a local Mexican consulate here and a lot of people like the San Diego chamber of commerce and a synesthesia chamber of commerce and the OTA, Mesa chamber of commerce are constantly, um, involved in what's happening at the border because their businesses depend on it so heavily. So I think one of the things that they all told me was that that time of year last year was very challenging. You know, it was very challenging for all of them, but one of the things they were really proud of was that it sort of strengthened the communication between the mall and it also kind of strengthen the messaging that they all had, um, about the importance of having a border that is fluid. Um, and the importance of trying to balance national security with, you know, the, the economic needs and just the, you know, emotional and social needs of, of a region that is split by a border.
Speaker 1: 05:07 Well, there've been a lot of things happening at the border in the year that has followed that shutdown. Are we still seeing migrants coming to the border and the same numbers as last year?
Speaker 2: 05:17 We are seeing a lot of people still coming to the border. Um, the numbers have gone down in the past few months. Um, that's probably for several reasons. In general, they're seasonal shifts, um, with migration. So for instance, we saw numbers go down during the summer, which is fairly normal because a lot of the paths to the border are through the desert and areas that get really, really hot during that time of year. Um, another major change that we've seen is the, um, so-called remain in Mexico policy, which is officially called the immigration protection protocols. Um, that's now sending everyone who requests asylum at the border pretty much, um, especially central Americans back to Mexico to wait. And, um, I think that, you know, that has certainly had an impact on people's decision making when they're deciding whether to come here or not. I've been speaking with the voice of San Diego reporter Maya, Sri Christian, and thank you so much for your time. Thank you again for having me.
Though the federal government enforces policies at the border, locals feel their impacts most acutely. At no point has that tension been so palpable as it was one year ago, during an unprecedented shutdown of the San Ysidro Port of Entry.