Commuters make their way through the San Ysidro Port of Entry. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Policy changes at the border are taking a big toll on the students and workers who regularly cross ports of entry by increasing wait times and causing constant uncertainty.

The starkest example came last November, when officials shut down the San Ysidro Port of Entry for five hours. But border wait times have been growing since the spring, when the Trump administration began moving staff to the spaces between ports of entry to help Border Patrol deal with people who are crossing there.

In April, the Washington Post reported that the Otay Mesa Port of Entry’s cargo processing section took 270 minutes to push trucks through its crossing. It took 50 minutes last year.

The impact of staffing changes at ports of entry was on full display last Sunday and Monday, as a big music festival took place in Baja and students went back to school.

On Twitter, Estefanía Castañeda Pérez, a Ph.D. student at UCLA, said she hadn’t seen lines like this since the mid-2000s, when checks at the border crossing were ramped up in the aftermath of 9/11.

Castañeda Pérez said she had to get up at 3 a.m. that day to make it to an 8:30 a.m. talk in Clairemont.

I spoke with Castañeda Pérez and others who had to cross last weekend about what it’s like to deal with such long waits.

“I was shocked,” she told me. She has been crossing regularly this summer and said Monday morning was particularly bad.

Castañeda Pérez said she arrived in her vehicle at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry between 3:15 and 3:20 a.m. By 3:40 a.m., the line hadn’t moved at all, so she drove to the San Ysidro Port of Entry, parked her car and waited in the pedestrian lane. She didn’t cross into the United States until nearly 7:30 a.m.

There have been major vehicle and pedestrian lane expansions at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in recent years, but with the movement of CBP officers away from ports of entry, we don’t seem to be benefiting from the additional infrastructure right now.

“It wasn’t properly staffed,” Castañeda Pérez said. “It shouldn’t be that way when we’ve expanded the port of entry.”

The situation was no better Sunday.

Javier Garcia crossed last weekend with a group of interns from Project Jupyter, a nonprofit, open-source data science program at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. It took them about six hours to get back crossing in a vehicle at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

Garcia said it felt like they could see the port of entry nearby, but didn’t move toward it for hours.

“For some of the people in my group, it was their first time having been to Mexico,” he said. “It was like seeing politics at the border in real life.”

Yadira Avitia, who lives in San Diego, went down to the Baja Beach Fest — a music festival that featured big reggaeton and Latin trap musicians, like J Balvin, Bad Bunny and Ozuna — in Rosarito last weekend.

She and her friends arrived at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in their vehicle around noon on Sunday. They didn’t cross until 6:30 a.m. Monday — a roughly 18.5 hour wait.

“At one point, traffic was so bad everyone around us just turned their cars off and took a cat nap,” Avitia told me via Instagram.

For about 12 of those hours, Avitia said, she and her friends would walk to a nearby 7/11 every so often to get snacks or use the restroom. At around 1 a.m., she said, someone opened their garage and began selling snacks and coffee and allowed people to use their bathroom for $1.

Avitia said it was one as the worst experiences she’s ever had crossing the border.

“There was no regard for anyone at all; I saw exhausted abuelitas getting in and out of cars to stretch their legs,” she wrote in a message. “I listened to babies crying, tired of being in their seats for so many hours in the direct path of sunlight as the sun set.”

On the Detention Front

A San Diego federal judge granted the government’s request last week to force-feed and hydrate an immigration detainee from Russia who has been on hunger strike since Aug. 4, the Union-Tribune reports. In Texas, an ICE doctor testified in federal court recently that force-feeding detainees who are on hunger strike is “uncomfortable,” but necessary, reports Texas Monthly.

The doctor in Texas described the procedure in court, and said it takes at least 10 medical and correctional personnel to conduct the procedure, which involves inserting a long flexible tube through the detainee’s nose, down the throat and into the stomach. An X-ray technician checks to make sure the tube was inserted correctly. Six guards surround the detainee — one for each arm and leg, and one at each end of the bed — to respond to any resistance. The doctor said she had force-fed another individual on hunger strike earlier that week. The procedure caused “minimal bleeding” and other detainees on hunger strike were present for the feeding, the magazine reports.

In San Diego, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who also overseen the ACLU’s challenge to family separations, determined that the government “is likely to succeed in showing that its interests in preserving life and discharging its duties to care for those in its custody outweigh any interest Defendant might have in expressing himself through a hunger strike.”


The Flu Has No Borders

Migrant shelters in Tijuana have been reporting outbreaks of chicken pox and the flu. At one shelter, 73 of 225 people staying there were ill.

Back in January, when service providers in San Diego County were moving forward on a migrant shelter in San Diego, these same illnesses were highlighted by county public health officials and advocates as public health concerns on both sides of the border.

At a county hearing in January, Nick Macchione, the county director of Health and Human Services, specifically flagged varicella, the virus that causes chicken pox, as a cause of concern. On average, he said, the county has seen two cases per year. Between October and January, when the federal government began dropping migrant families on San Diego’s doorstep, the county saw nine cases.

Diseases, as I’ve written before, don’t abide by borders.

Federal officials seem to be less concerned than local ones. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the agency will not vaccinate migrant detainees at short-term holding centers for the flu, reports CNBC. ICE, which handles long-term detention, told a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, however, that it may provide flu shots.

Teens at the Center of Drug Smuggling Cases

Teens have been increasingly used to smuggle drugs across the border in recent years. The Union-Tribune dug into the case of a young man from Tijuana who has been accused of running cross-border teen drug mules.

A former Castle Park High School student was also recently sentenced to nearly four years in federal prison for recruiting fellow high schoolers to act as drug mules and for attempting to smuggle two immigrants across the border in the trunk of his car, the U-T also reported.

Asylum-Seekers Continue to Struggle While Waiting in Tijuana

Maya was Voice of San Diego’s Associate Editor of Civic Education. She reported on marginalized communities in San Diego and oversees Voice’s explanatory...

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