Border Closure Caused Millions in Economic Losses, Troubling Businesses

SAN DIEGO (CN) – A five-hour long closure of the U.S.-Mexico border in both directions Sunday due to mounting tensions over migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. resulted not only in the tear gassing of men, women and children in Mexico by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, but also led to millions in economic losses for a binational region with business ties that don’t stop at a border wall.

The San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce reported Monday night the border closure from 11:30 a.m. to just after 5 p.m. Sunday caused a $5.3 million loss for San Ysidro businesses, many of which make their entire year’s profit during the holiday shopping season.

One of the busiest ports of entry in the world, 90,000 people cross San Ysidro between San Diego and Tijuana on a daily basis for school, shopping, work and tourism.

San Diego and Tijuana – touted as a binational “mega region” by San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum – sees cross-border commerce for major industries such as biotechnology and medical tourism. The two mayors partnered up to promote the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, with a replacement trilateral deal between the two countries and Canada expected to be signed this week.

Faulconer, a Republican, has notably opposed a border wall across the entire U.S.-Mexico border and insisted via Twitter Sunday that Mexico and the U.S. “must work together … our way of life relies on a safe, secure and functioning border.”

A view of the existing border fence near San Diego. (Bianca Bruno/CNS)

While thousands of asylum seekers made their way from Central America through Mexico the past few weeks before landing in Tijuana, the border city just outside San Diego, President Donald Trump’s administration sent thousands of troops to fortify the border by installing concertina wire, shipping containers and concrete barriers at ports of entry.

Since troops were sent along the Southwest border, the San Ysidro border crossing has been closed multiple times for both infrastructure improvements and to stop migrants from trying to breach the border.

On Sunday, a group of about 500 asylum-seekers marched toward the U.S. border hoping to speed up their requests when some of the members of the group tried to force their way in, according to the Associated Press. CBP agents dispersed tear gas which choked women and children who got caught up in the chaos.

The border was then shut down in both directions, with those closures resulting in hours-long delays for pedestrian, vehicle and commercial traffic, causing some people to miss work.

Unite Here Local 30 President Brigette Browning said the hotel and food service workers’ union represents about 1,000 workers who live in Tijuana and cross the border to get to work every day.

She said while some workers were late to work Sunday, employers were “understanding” and there were no reports of workers being docked or marked absent for getting caught in the border closure.

Browning said some employees have opted to stay with family and friends in San Diego rather than risk getting caught in an unexpected border closure.

“It’s a story of great love and sacrifice,” Browning said of parents who live in Tijuana and work in the U.S.

“I don’t understand why it’s demonized to do the best for your children. There’s nothing negative about it.”

Browning said it is “fundamentally false” Mexican workers are taking jobs away from U.S. citizens and that the economy “couldn’t function without Mexican immigrants.”

“American-born people are not trying to be dishwashers and housekeepers, they want to be servers and bellmen, they want ‘front of the house’ type jobs. That argument comes from people not familiar with the industry,” Browning said.

Paola Avila, vice president of international business affairs for the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, said some businesses have shared with the chamber how much revenue they lost Sunday during the border closure.

Avila said one business at the Las Americas Outlet Mall, which is directly adjacent to the border fence, lost $21,000 compared to the previous year’s earnings on the same day, down to $7,000 in profits Sunday after earning $28,000 the year before.

Commercial exchange between San Diego and Tijuana is valued at $2.1 million a day, Avila said.

The outlet mall, which includes 125 stores and services, closed entirely after the border shut down, Avila said.

Other businesses in the region also shut down when California Highway Patrol closed Interstate 805 and Interstate 5, preventing people from patronizing businesses in San Ysidro.

Avila said prior to Sunday’s border closure the chamber convened a meeting with industry associations “because the impact was already being felt with the uncertainty of a potential border closing.”

She said people were already choosing not to cross the border or limited their trips because they were worried about getting stuck and not being able to get back home.

Employers have been coming up with solutions to support their binational employees, Avila said, including offering a lounge for workers to rest and eat for those who arrive early when planning for border traffic and working with San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit System to potentially add more bus routes for employees who may have to cross the border using the pedestrian entrance.

She said businesses are planning “how to help and support their workforce … it’s not just a conversation about economic losses.”

But border wait times have been an ongoing issue that has only been compounded by the current situation with the asylum-seekers: a 2006 San Diego Association of Governments study – which is expected to be updated next year –found border delays cost the region billions of dollars in potential revenue.

“This administration has clearly sent the message to [San Diego’s] number one economic trading partner and export market they don’t value their business relationship and add to that this current migrant situation where you have a constant threat of potential border closure or delays,” Avila said.

“The fact that the White House issued a statement saying we might have to shut down the border permanently speaks to a lack of understanding that that’s not an option,” she added.

The San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce did not return multiple phone and email requests for comment as of press time.

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