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Pedestrians line up for CBP processing in Calexico. / Photo courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Federal officials have restricted non-essential travel at the U.S.-Mexico border since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A new Voice of San Diego poll sheds light on how people in San Diego feel about the restrictions — and the border, in general. The poll shows that while more San Diego County residents favor a more open movement of people and goods across the U.S.-Mexico border, more residents oppose than support re-opening the border at this time.

In a non-COVID world, 46 percent of county residents polled said they generally support a more open border with Mexico, while 41 percent of those polled support more restrictions at the border. Another 14 percent of people polled said they didn’t know.

When it comes to the COVID border-crossing restrictions, 50 percent of residents polled oppose re-opening the border at this time and 39 percent favor re-opening right now. Ten percent of those polled said they didn’t know.

The Voice Poll, conducted by FM 3 Research between Oct. 8-20, surveyed 712 San Diego County residents via a mix of landline and cell phone calls and online surveys. (You can view the crosstabs for the border restrictions questions to see further breakdowns by political ideology, race, age and county supervisor district here.)

Commercial goods arriving via rail and truck have been exempt from the restrictions, as have “essential” personnel, lawful permanent residents and those with legal work permits. Essential travel includes people in need of medical care, or who are attending school or engaged in a trade, like truck drivers. But everyone else technically is not supposed to cross.

The restrictions also impact asylum-seekers and other immigrants at the border, since U.S. Customs and Border Protection is no longer processing asylum-seekers at ports of entry and has been promptly returning those who cross between ports of entry to their last country of transit — Mexico.

Those restrictions were recently extended through Nov. 21.

Initially the restrictions caused a drastic drop in border crossings, and though crossings remain far lower than pre-COVID times, they’ve been creeping up over the past few months, sometimes even causing painfully long wait times.

Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

The San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce has also been checking in with the businesses it represents about the restrictions. Businesses in San Ysidro are pretty much entirely reliant on border crossers, so the coronavirus-related crossing restrictions have really hurt them. The Chamber of Commerce is pushing to end the restrictions.

Last week, in a letter to U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jason Wells noted that only 65 percent of San Ysidro businesses are operating due to the decrease in border crossings, and that they’re operating at a 55 percent revenue loss.

“In San Ysidro alone, 100 businesses have permanently closed due to not having access to their customers,” Wells wrote. “That is 13 percent of our community’s businesses … dead … due to a political policy.”

Wells noted that San Diego County’s COVID-19 testing at the port of entry has shown that infection rates among border crossers are no different than infection rates in southern San Diego County.

“Restricting daily travelers between our countries, who invest in binational commerce through the goods and services they acquire, is hurting border communities more than COVID itself,” Wells wrote. “We respectfully ask for your intervention as the foremost authority for our binational relationship to not allow border restrictions to persist beyond November 21, 2020.”

Asylum Updates

The Trump administration has long tried to limit asylum, but the coronavirus has effectively brought the system to a halt. Since March, those who enter the U.S. illegally — or between ports of entry — are immediately expelled to Mexico within hours, with no chance to plead for asylum.

Those dynamics have also changed who is trying to cross the border illegally, the Associated Press reports.

“The suspension of asylum combined with the introduction of ‘express deportations,’ as migrants call them, accelerated a shift in who’s crossing the border illegally: more Mexican men coming for economic reasons and far fewer from Central America, Africa and elsewhere seeking asylum,” the Associated Press finds.

U.S. border officials who turned away asylum-seekers at official border crossings, including in San Diego, told immigrants they didn’t have space to process them, regardless of whether they actually could, BuzzFeed News reports.

A new lawsuit challenging the Migrant Protection Protocols, which require asylum-seekers to await their asylum proceedings in Mexico, was filed in California Wednesday, arguing that the program is designed to ensure that as many asylum-seekers as possible are deported rather than protected, the Union-Tribune reports.

Local Police Recently Killed Two Mexican Nationals

Two Mexican nationals have been killed by law enforcement in San Diego in the past two weeks, drawing criticism from the Mexican Consulate about how the San Diego Police Department and Border Patrol use force when dealing with people in mental distress, KPBS reports.

On Oct. 19, 39-year-old Jose Alfredo Castro Gutierrez, a legal permanent resident, was shot by San Diego police officers in the city’s Mountain View neighborhood. Just a few days later, on Oct. 23, a Border Patrol agent shot and killed 30-year-old David Villalobos near the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

The San Diego Police Department is investigating both shootings. The video from the Border Patrol shooting has not yet been released.

Villalobos’ family told NBC 7 that they don’t understand why the incident ended in his death. They are trying to raise money for his funeral.

The Status of COVID in Baja

  • The number of people on ventilators for COVID-19 in Baja California has increased since last month. (Proceso)
  • There is a COVID-19 outbreak among Tijuana and Mexicali officials and staff. (El Heraldo de Mexico)
  • Amid the pandemic, Tijuana’s Hospital General lost power for days. Between Friday, Oct. 23, and Monday, Oct. 26, the hospital experienced blackouts for hours each day. (Zeta)

Details on ICE Crackdowns on Immigration Activists

Law students at the New York University Law School’s Immigrant Rights Clinic have put together a database and searchable map with incidents of alleged retaliation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement against immigration advocates, The Intercept reports.

The group catalogues 20 cases in the San Diego-Tijuana region. Many of those included were immigration advocates and journalists who were targeted around the time the 2018 caravans of Central American asylum-seekers arrived in Tijuana. In San Diego, the incidents were largely associated with immigration enforcement by ICE due to so-called sanctuary policies in the region and surveillance associated with family separation protests.

Reports Raise Numerous Issues With Border Wall Contractors

  • A review of federal spending data by ProPublica found that modifications to federal contracts have increased the price of the border wall by billions of dollars, costing roughly five times more per mile under the Trump administration than it did under previous administrations.
  • Business Insider dug into the record of one mid-sized construction firm that secured a $2 billion contract from the Trump administration for the border wall, and found some troubling claims and violations.
  • In other border wall-related news, a Ninth Circuit panel seems unlikely to stop border wall construction after considering a tribe’s claims that the construction site in San Diego contains cultural resources and possibly ancestral burial sites, Courthouse News reports.

More Border News

Maya Srikrishnan

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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