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LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 (coronavirus)

Most Will Still Be Able To Cross Border During ‘Shutdown’

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Speaker 1: 00:01 In an effort to stop the spread of covert. 19 last Friday, president Trump closed the Southern border for all non-essential travel, but us citizens, legal permanent residents and people with work visas are still allowed to travel freely out of Mexico. It's Mexican citizens who have by national lives who will be most effected by the partial shutdown. The Trump administration says the new rules will remain in effect for at least 30 days. If you or your business has been affected by the border shutdown, give us a call and tell us about your experience. The number is +1 888-895-5727 joining me to talk about the border closure, R F Meade, director of the transporter Institute at the university of San Diego. AV. Welcome to the program. I'm Marine Palla. Vila is vice president of the international business affairs for the San Diego chamber of commerce. Paolo, welcome. Thank you for having me and KPBS reporter max Rivlin. Nadler max. Hello.

Speaker 2: 01:03 Hi, Maureen.

Speaker 1: 01:04 Maxi. You spoke with the Mexican council general to get his reaction to the border closure. What did he have to say?

Speaker 3: 01:11 Okay.

Speaker 2: 01:11 Well he told me that over the weekend, uh, and all of last week, and it had been a process of coordinating with the United States over exactly who would be allowed in, on either side of the border and trying to do it in the least chaotic way possible. Um, that being said, on Friday in the hours leading up to the closure, it was a bit chaotic. A lot of people were trying to rush to the Southern side of the border to pick up things like dry cleaning, get their cars, and other people were deciding to come back to the U S because they didn't want to stay in Mexico for at least 30 days. Here's what the Mexican consulate in San Diego, Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez, had to tell me about that process leading up to the decision,

Speaker 3: 01:50 both the U S and the Mexican government work through several days in order to define a set of regulations that are aimed to eliminate non-essential travel, but at the same time not disrupt the economic change and the trade relations between the U S and Mexico. And that's why there is a series of, um, very specific definitions about what is considered essential travel.

Speaker 1: 02:27 So max, who are the people who will be turned away from entering the U S be caught because of this border closure.

Speaker 2: 02:35 So everyone who has a work visa to work in the U S even if it's not essential or what we consider to be essential can still enter the U S it's of course at the discretion of the customs agents themselves. But that's what's been communicated to the Mexican consulate. Us citizens, of course, always have the right to return to the United States at any point. And what, uh, the Mexican console in San Diego really wanted to stress to me is if you are an American citizen living in Baja, you shouldn't be concerned that if you wanted to go to the U S for work or to buy things, that you wouldn't be allowed to go back into Mexico. Likewise, if you're an American citizen who has relatives in Mexico, your grandparents, your aunt or uncle, you can still visit them and you will still be allowed back into the U S the big thing that this will impact are people who would be going down for purely recreational purposes like tourism or heading to the beach.

Speaker 1: 03:27 How has this, I'm sorry, go ahead.

Speaker 2: 03:30 Yeah, so that's that.

Speaker 1: 03:32 Okay. So how has this partial closure impacted how busy the ports of entry are?

Speaker 2: 03:38 So even on Friday, even leading up to, uh, the closure or the partial closure, the port of entry, you saw a ton of traffic kind of disappear. The lines that we're used to just being hours long, uh, kind of dissipate. And that was mostly to do with, uh, people on the California side following the stay at home order and not going to Mexico and, and businesses in the U S being close. So people who work in Mexico who go to the U S everyday, not being able to go in addition to schools being closed. Earlier today, Pete Flores, the director of field operations for customs and border protection in San Diego, had this to say about just how much traffic across the border has gone down

Speaker 4: 04:20 this weekend. CBP officers at our San Diego field office, port of entry still processed over 103 northbound travelers into the United States, but access is temporarily limited to prevent further introduction of the COBIT 19 into United States. Since CVP began implementing the CDC order on Saturday night through Saturday night into Sunday night, we have seen a decline in our traffic at our ports of entry, about a 70% decrease.

Speaker 1: 04:51 We're taking your comments on the border shutdown. Have you seen what the San Ysidro border crossing looks like right now with a partial border closure in place? If you have, tell us about a, give us a call at +1 888-895-5727 and Paula, I want to go to you. What kind of impact are you expecting on business in San Diego right now?

Speaker 5: 05:16 Well, the truth is that, um, as max stated before this, people, businesses had already moved their operations as much as possible to remote and virtual, um, moving their employees to a work at home, a situation when possible. It's really the last week we've seen, um, only essential operations that have been going on. So our workforce has already been under this essential definition. Um, and so there has been limited impact. The impact really has been more, um, concerns. Will that change? Will our essential workforce continue to be able to, um, make it, uh, to work, you know, for those that live across the border. And as you know, our region is very unique and that, uh, regular businesses that, um, an operations in services have a cross border workforce across sectors. Um, uh, unlike other parts of, of the country.

Speaker 1: 06:21 This is a question for EV Mead. What is the Corona virus situation in Mexico? How does it compare with the United States?

Speaker 6: 06:29 Well, it's really interesting and I'm, I'm glad you asked that question because what I would say I'm, and I think the friendliest way to put it, um, is that Mexico is about two weeks behind, both in terms of the official response and public consciousness of it, of where we are in the U S if you look at the spread of cases, um, it makes sense. You know, two weeks ago, Mexico had really, you know, in the, in the whole country there are only five detected cases. So it makes sense. I would be a little bit behind us, but of course that also, um, you know, for those of us who work in the cross border space, it was absolutely surreal to feel California locking down and, um, to be, you know, canceling things like in person meetings. No, I canceled them. Um, a teaching event with 170 people in, in [inaudible].

Speaker 6: 07:15 And you know, our local partners, they seem to understand, but they weren't on any kind of lockdown really. And there was very little public awareness. So, um, I think it's mostly the timing. The, the other thing that I would say on that is that I think, um, you know, we, we hope that, that, that public consciousness will change really fast there because there are some things that in hindsight, based on our experience in the U S and certainly based on the experience in Europe, um, seemed to be, you know, pretty lacking. Aluna you've got a solid, for example, national newspaper in Mexico ran a story, um, just this weekend with an estimate that, you know, at worst Mexico might have 2000 deaths. Um, I don't know a public health person in the world who would agree with that. I mean, it just seems irresponsible. Um, and while Mexico city, it appears today is, is more, is more locked down. There are a few people in the street, there are images from this weekend of just thousands of people going about their business and really close quarters. So, um, I think there's a lot to be, there's a lot to be concerned about and hopefully, um, you know, the experience here and the experience in Europe will trickle down and, um, and there'll be a better response at the, at the federal level in Mexico in particular.

Speaker 1: 08:23 And the numbers coming out of Mexico for the people infected with Corona virus is just a little over 13. Are those numbers reliable of

Speaker 6: 08:32 it's the same as everywhere. It's all about whether there's testing going on or not. Uh, and, and in Mexico I would say, you know, the public information about this is behind a, because there's not been a lot of testing, but B, because you know, the, the government has been very defensive. You know, they have, um, put published lists of, of like eligible test centers and testing, but without actually verifying if they have the, the ability to carry out a cobot 19 test. They've also done things like for a couple of weeks, there were circulating flyers that had charts of different kinds of symptoms so that people could sort of self-diagnose whether they had a common cold or the flu or a cobot 19 something that I think most public health folks now would say is pretty irresponsible because it can give people who very well may be infected, a false sense of security.

Speaker 6: 09:22 I think the public health officials in Mexico have now pulled that back. But like I say, there was a couple of weeks there when there was this huge global awareness. Uh, and Mexico seemed to be really behind. The ironic thing though that I would say and you know, in light of, um, you know, people are as is, um, comments earlier and the comments from the U S government and the focus on the border if we focus back on our region. Um, it is true though that, you know, when we're talking about closing the border right now, if you look at the known vectors of disease, it's really much more about protecting Mexico from being infected from the United States rather than the other way around. And so I think that this talk about, you know, further introduction of the disease in the U S is a little bit, um, I mean I understand it, it's not totally unreasonable in a middle of a public health crisis, but we, we do need to think about that. I mean, you know, we have a lot of known cases. They have very few closing the border is as much about protecting Mexico as it is about protecting us.

Speaker 5: 10:17 And Paula, I want to bring you back in. You know, the restrictions on going in and out and traveling are having a major impact on the U S economy. What's the impact on the cross border economy? Well, as you know, um, our economies are completely linked and that's across industries and sectors. So removing, um, are impacting a sector as important for us as tourism and recreation, which is the one that's impacted with this border restriction is, is quite dire for our economy. Um, it is an industry that is the lifeblood of our economy. So, um, it will, as we've seen, you know, and just domestically result in a huge economic hit, we've already, we're already experiencing the, the hit to the tourism, uh, our restaurants or retail and, and such. So it is tremendous. Um, with that said though, you know, that's, we are in a very unique situation here where, um, we need to limit and take actions to limit the spread. Um, you know, in the or we take measures, um, strict measures to limit the spread. The more we can prevent, um, uh, a greater economic hit, right. And the sooner we can overcome this crisis and try and move towards restarting the economy, um, so it is, it is impactful. Um, but I do think it's necessary. All right. And when would you like to see, uh, this, this partial shutdown lifted?

Speaker 5: 11:58 Well, I think, um, a better question is do we move, will it remain as just these certain roasts restrictions? Will there be more restrictions? I think I, we might see more restrictions before it's even lifted. Um, this is just the initial phase as Eve said. Um, if Mexico does not take action and their cases, um, inc firmed cases increase as they are doing here and we reached the point where perhaps we start leveling the curve, you're going to see greater restrictions. I think that's what's next to come. Unfortunately, unless Mexico does take those actions more important than travel restrictions, Mexico needs to impose the same restrictions that we have here. Limiting, uh, restricting events and gatherings completely moving and asking people to stay at home. And as was mentioned earlier, the president of Mexico, um, easily even as recently as yesterday in the news, um, in a press briefing encouraged people to go out and, and take their families out to restaurants and, you know, not stay at home.

Speaker 1: 13:10 Now we're taking your comments on the border shutdown. Our number here is one eight, eight, eight, eight, nine, five, five, seven, two, seven. Max, I want to go back to you. What is the impact of this border closure on asylum seekers who are waiting in Mexico?

Speaker 2: 13:27 Yeah, so the people who are waiting in Mexico right now, beginning last Thursday and Friday, they had their court cases, uh, delayed for those in the remain in Mexico program. Um, they were give, they showed up at the port of entry and were told that they could come back this week for a new court date. Uh, today the courts were also shut down this time, not by the immigration judges, but by border patrol and customs and border protection themselves. Uh, so for people who have been returned to Mexico under their main in Mexico program, they have to wait in Mexico now for, for quite some time, uh, in addition to the amount of time they've already been waiting. Now for people who are caught between ports of entries, that's where it gets a bit more interesting. The administration has announced a new policy along the Southern border and chief Aaron and Heikki, the chief patrol agent of San Diego custom border patrol sector, explained it this morning. How it would go down.

Speaker 4: 14:20 Quick interviews will be conducted in the field, basic biographic scans run in the field as well. Then the individuals will be brought back to the border and expelled to the country they came from.

Speaker 1: 14:32 Thank you max. I want to go back to you AV and just expand upon something that you were saying before about the fact that, cause I don't think we think about this enough. Uh, Mexico has had relatively few cases of coven 19. We have 40,000 plus cases in the United States now. So the border cross border traffic southbound might be more dangerous than the one coming North.

Speaker 6: 14:55 Yeah, I think that's true. I mean, again, it's, it's all about detection and testing and when we, if we get a better testing regime, which I hope we will in Mexico shortly that that could change. I mean the, the one thing I would like to say though is just like here and I'm really glad you guys, you know, began the show talking about vulnerable populations here. We've got to talk about the most vulnerable populations on the border. Um, the migrant shelters in Tijuana right now are at capacity as they have been for some time, but they're running out of hand sanitizer. They're running out of disinfectant, they're running out of masks. Um, they're worried, seriously worried about running out of food. And, um, this is something, you know, these are people who are in the conditions where people are most likely to get sick generally.

Speaker 6: 15:43 Uh, and a respiratory illness like Cova does tend to go after people who are in overcrowded conditions or in substandard, um, conditions. And you know, what I want people to think about is, you know, we've already kind of been kind of at the brink and Tiguan it with regard to, um, uh, population kind of living in a uncertainty, not sure if they're going to come to the United States. And then mixed in with, uh, a large population of deportees. And the one thing that keeps that system going has been, um, an almost inexhaustible source of employment in Tijuana. The one advantage she want us had over other places that receive a lot of deportees and have a lot of, uh, transient, uh, refugee populations is that you can always go work in Tijuana. What was the economic situation that we're encountering now and possible restrictions and stay at home owners, etc. That may not be true anymore.

Speaker 1: 16:32 I have, we have a caller on the liner.

Speaker 6: 16:34 Yeah,

Speaker 1: 16:35 we have a caller on the line right now. Uh, Tony.

Speaker 7: 16:38 Yes. Hello.

Speaker 1: 16:39 Hi. What's your goal? What's your comment about the border closure?

Speaker 7: 16:44 Um, I just want you to point out that, uh, the fourth to the 10th of April in Mexico is some on the center Easter week holiday. It's a very big deal. And in the town of [inaudible] where I live, uh, we have 50, 60, 70,000 people come from all over the border area from San Diego, Imperial County, Los Angeles, everybody flocks to San Philippe. And it's a big beer party on the beach, basically for a week.

Speaker 1: 17:20 It may not happen this year, Tony. It may not happen if, if we're hearing, uh, what max and [inaudible] have been telling us that Mexico may be slow to be adopting some of the same restrictions we have in this country. They are still moving in that direction, aren't they have?

Speaker 7: 17:38 Okay.

Speaker 6: 17:39 Yeah, I would think so. I mean, it's hard to predict, but I can't imagine that the buy you stir the situation, one type changed the other, the other thing in Mexico too is like the United States. Um, I think you'll start to see States and municipalities take their own measures, uh, regardless of of what the federal authorities do or don't do.

Speaker 1: 17:56 So do you think we'll be seeing that get together this year?

Speaker 6: 18:00 I mean, I'm, in my opinion, I think that, that I, I would not bet on it. Um, you know, I, I do work in, in several States in Mexico where, again, the federal response was slow, but especially, uh, places that are in touch with, um, a lot of people in the United States and abroad. I mean, the message is getting through and everybody's kind of adapting on the fly and, and figuring out social distancing. Um, so I, I would guess that that would not happen.

Speaker 1: 18:27 Okay. Then we'll, we'll wait and see. And I'd like to thank my guests. I have made director of the transporter Institute at the university of San Diego, Paula Avila, vice president of international business affairs for the San Diego chamber of commerce and KPBS reporter max Rivlin nether. Thank you all.

Speaker 8: 18:44 Thank you. Thank you Marie.

On Saturday morning, the U.S. border with Mexico was closed to all “non-essential” travel as part of the federal government's effort to contain the Coronavirus pandemic. But people with valid reasons for going back and forth across the border will still be able to.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.