tijuana sewage
Trash piles up near the Tijuana River. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Rain fell on San Diego Monday. It wasn’t a lot of rain – an Accuweather forecast called for “a brief morning shower or two” with an anticipated rainfall of 0.01 inches.

But it was enough to prompt a beach closure at the Tijuana Slough, just south of Imperial Beach. That section of the beach is closed whenever the Tijuana River is flowing.

Cross-border sewage spills have been an issue in South County for decades.

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As a kid, I remember being told not to go in the water in Imperial Beach after it rained. Not unless you wanted to risk getting a rash, diarrhea or even Hepatitis.

But back then, you only had to worry about that in the winter. Closures rarely, if ever, happened in the dry summer months. Over the last few years the once-seasonal closures are now a year-round occurrence.

On Friday, a group of volunteers from Spring Valley Clean Up Crew organized a Tijuana River Valley clean-up outing, KPBS reported.

That humble volunteer clean-up represents the most tangible, on-the-ground problem-solving happening in the Tijuana River Valley.

They picked up trash along the river valley and called out San Diego County officials for what they said was a lack of action, despite simultaneously opening a campsite nearby.

“Although the county has declared a public health crisis, we are demanding that they declare a state of emergency because after they declared a public health crisis, they opened up a campsite along the river and they’ve told none of the people how toxic it is,” the group’s founder Victoria Abrenica told KPBS.

County officials said the campground’s soil has been tested and deemed safe for the community.

The EPA is close to identifying infrastructure projects to fund to address the spills. Officials say they hope to publicly identify specific projects by August, according to KPBS.

KPBS used a January 2020 press conference to capture how reality doesn’t always match expectations. At the press conference, Rep. Mike Levin touted that “we have successfully secured $300 million under the border water infrastructure program to aggressively address cross-border pollution for the Tijuana River Valley.”

I covered that press conference for the San Diego Union-Tribune and remember it feeling like a victory lap. San Diego’s entire local congressional delegation was there, joined by then-County Supervisor Greg Cox, then-San Diego Mayor Kevin Falconer and Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina.

That was 18 months ago.

Since then, Cox and Rep. Susan Davis retired, and Falconer is now running for governor.

The EPA has spent the last 18 months figuring out what to spend the $300 million on. Part of the deliberations involves the touchy fact that many of the projects that could fix the problem are in Mexico, and U.S. officials want the money spent in the U.S.

Once the EPA identifies projects, there will be a “pretty comprehensive environmental analysis.” In other words, don’t expect any major work on the Tijuana River Valley any time soon.

Migrants Are Still Being Turned Away at the Border

Customs and Border Protection is essentially forcing asylum-seekers into homelessness by abruptly canceling their appointments to enter the United States, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

This goes back to Title 42, a policy aimed at deterring the spread of COVID-19. This Trump-era policy that was continued under the Biden administration allows Customs and Border Protection to deny asylum-seekers entry to the country. Asylum-seekers are sent back to their country of origin without a judge’s deportation order.

In February, the ACLU sued the Biden administration over this policy. As part of that lawsuit, the ACLU and federal government negotiated an agreement that allows nonprofits to identify particularly vulnerable asylum-seekers and get them a Title 42 exemption that allows them to enter the country and pursue their asylum claims.

Those particularly vulnerable asylum-seekers are the ones having their appointments canceled at the last minute. The last-minute changes are leaving migrants struggling to find housing. Those who cannot find housing are sleeping in the streets.

These appointment cancelations are happening at a particularly bad time because several Tijuana migrant shelters are already at capacity and turning people away, Fox 5 San Diego reported.

Customs and Border Protection, which has a yearly budget of $18 billion, said the cancelations are because of “a capacity issue at the San Ysidro Port of Entry from last weekend but declined to elaborate further,” according to the Union-Tribune.

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