Travelers cross into Tijuana using the San Ysidro Port of Entry. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The border always introduces a unique dynamic when it comes to public health. There are different agencies and procedures on both sides, but disease pays no mind to national boundaries.

There’s been fear — stoked by President Donald Trump — that the border and its flow of people will further spread the coronavirus, but few cases have been reported in Mexico so far and U.S. Customs and Border Protection told me they are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to add additional screenings at ports of entry.

Mexico has confirmed seven cases nationwide, according to the latest World Health Organization situation report released Sunday.

Baja California had a handful of suspected cases, mostly involving people who had recently traveled to Italy. But those cases tested negative, the state’s health secretary confirmed Saturday, El Sol de Tijuana reports.

There’s no plan to close the San Ysidro Port of Entry in the meantime, said CBP spokesman Ralph DeSio.

“CBP is working with the CDC to identify arriving travelers who have been in mainland China or Iran within the previous 14 days, as they require enhanced health screening,” DeSio wrote in an e-mail. “Those travelers are identified by CBP officers during their primary inspection and are referred for secondary screening where CDC personnel conduct the enhanced health screening. CDC makes any determination from there as to whether any additional measures must be taken.”

CBP officers are using a combination of traveler history records, officer questioning and observation, and self-declarations to identify people who may need additional health screening, DeSio said.

In general, San Diego County, the state of California, the CDC and Baja California health officials regularly coordinate and communicate on cross-border public health issues.

“Many people go across the border for their health care,” Eric McDonald, medical director of the San Diego County public health department’s epidemiology and immunization services branch told me last year during an outbreak of drug-resistant bacteria tied to a hospital in Tijuana. “Many San Diegans use the health care system in Mexico and it’s a different system than ours. We are a true binational community in which we have these regular means of communication on these issues.”

‘Remain in Mexico’ Stay Goes Into Effect This Week

On Thursday, the Migration Protection Protocols — or so-called “Remain in Mexico” policy — will no longer be in effect in Arizona or California. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals halted the policy but the U.S. Supreme Court could reverse or modify the order before then.

Remain in Mexico began as a pilot program in San Diego in January 2019. It has since been expanded across the U.S.-Mexico border and requires Central American asylum-seekers to await their asylum proceedings in Mexico.

The U.S. government has returned more than 25,700 people in the Mexicali/Tijuana region and more than 60,000 total.

On Friday, the Trump administration announced it would be sending 80 troops to the San Ysidro Port of Entry in San Diego and another 80 troops to El Paso to assist U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents with security in response to the ruling.

DeSio, the San Diego sector CBP spokesman, said the Department of Defense is concerned that large groups of asylum-seekers who have been waiting in Tijuana will come to the port of entry and try to forcibly enter the United States once the injunction goes into effect.

The troops, DeSio said, are “one element of CBP’s larger, comprehensive border security efforts to help CBP ensure everyone’s safety and security, to include travelers, asylum-seekers, business stakeholders and our own employees.”

On Feb. 28, when the 9th Circuit initially blocked the program, about 30 people went to the San Ysidro Port of Entry to request entrance to the United States, the Los Angeles Times reported. None of them was let in at the time because the injunction does not officially begin until March 12. That same day, however, CBP agents in El Paso closed the Paso Del Norte Bridge that connects El Paso with Ciudad Juarez when a larger group of migrants tried to cross shortly after the decision.

“The balance between facilitating the flow of legitimate trade and travel while upholding our national border security mission and the safety of the public and our personnel is delicate,” DeSio said. “CBP Ports of Entry are not designed or equipped to handle extremely large groups of travelers arriving all at the same time and temporary closure of a POE is contemplated as an extreme option, as necessary for public safety and border security.”

A shelter run by the San Diego Rapid Response Network, a coalition of human rights groups and immigrant service providers, is also preparing for an expected influx of asylum-seekers at San Diego’s border once the program is lifted.

Michael Hopkins, the CEO of Jewish Family Service, which has been a leading partner in the network, said the organization intends to help the asylum-seekers coming to the United States with both humanitarian and legal assistance.

“JFS remains committed to providing services to all asylum-seeking families released who need food, water, medical care and a safe place to sleep,” Hopkins said in a statement. “If MPP ends, the shelter anticipates a higher number of asylum-seeking families being released and is preparing to meet this increased demand for service. This underscores the need for a shelter to support asylum seeking families in our region, and JFS is grateful to the State of California, our partners, staff and volunteers and the many private donors who continue to make this shelter a reality.”

As of last week, the shelter had assisted 22,522 asylum-seekers since October 2018.

Women in Mexico March Against Gender-Based Violence

Hundreds of women marched in Tijuana on International Women’s Day in solidarity with women across Mexico to demand the government do more to protect them in the face of rising violence.

In Mexico City, an estimated 80,000 demonstrators took to the streets, making it the largest feminist street demonstration in Mexican history, the Los Angeles Times reports. In 2019, Mexican authorities said 1,010 women were murdered because of their gender by men, more than double the number reported in 2015.

As of Feb. 14, there had been 19 women murdered in Tijuana in 2020, according to Cadena Noticias. In 2019, there were 239 women killed in Baja California, 23 of which were considered femicides.

A series of gruesome femicides in Mexico in February has driven demonstrations in recent weeks across the country.

In Tijuana, the murder of Marbella Valdez, a 20-year-old student whose body was found beaten, bound and strangled in a garbage dump in February jolted women throughout the city, the Guardian reports. Valdez was stalked by the man suspected of killing her and he even showed up at her funeral, the Associated Press reports.

To follow the demonstrations Sunday, activists have urged women in Mexico to stay home Monday, in the hopes that their widespread absences will prompt action against gender-based violence, the Union-Tribune reports.

More Border News

  • California officials continue to put pressure on the federal government to take action on cross-border sewage. The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board issued an investigative order in February for the International Boundary and Water Commission to monitor more than a dozen locations impacted by sewage over an 18-month period. (KPBS)
  • Tijuana’s largest-ever tower is nearing completion with condos valued at more than $1 million. (Union-Tribune)
  • California and several other states filed a legal challenge against the Trump administration’s decision to transfer $3.8 billion in military funds toward the border wall.
  • A cell phone company in Tijuana is disrupting Verizon service in southern San Diego County. (Fox 5)
  • At least 21 U.S. Catholic priests accused of abuse have found refuge in Mexico. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles said one accused clergy member went to Tijuana for a retreat in 1993 and has remained there without permission. The archdiocese said it’s repeatedly asked the Archdiocese of Tijuana to not allow him to minister. (ProPublica)

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...

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.