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In California Border Town, 2 Businessmen Fear Downturn After Ban


Miguel Aguirre, a businessman in San Ysidro, Calif., hopes policymakers fully appreciate how much the local economy depends on border crossings. (A. Martinez/VOA)

Three months after Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president and less than three weeks after a controversial executive order, his intent to restrain immigration may be crimping commerce at the busiest land crossing on the country’s southern border, some local observers say.

At the San Ysidro port of entry between San Diego, California, and Tijuana, Mexico, an accountant for Transportes California said the bus company – with routes traversing the border – has "seen a drop" in ridership. Gerardo Chavez did not specify, though he said some potential passengers are fearful because they "do not know what will happen" in terms of their immigration status.

Miguel Aguirre, a longtime San Ysidro businessman and part owner of the city’s landmark McDonald’s Trolley Station Building, also said he has noticed a decrease in customers in the last few months.

But, Chavez added, "most people are optimistic" that, after the first 100 days of Trump's administration, "everything is going to calm down."

Fulfilling campaign promise

As a candidate, Trump repeatedly had pledged to increase security and limit irregular immigration – especially at the southern border. His executive order, issued January 25, temporarily barred U.S. immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Days later, a U.S. federal district judge in Washington state froze enforcement of the order, and that decision was upheld by a three-judge panel at the federal appeals court panel after a challenge by the administration. On Monday, a federal judge issued a new injunction to keep the ban from being implemented in the state of Virginia.

Yoga enthusiasts participate in a simultaneous session on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border wall at Peace Park near San Diego, Calif., Feb. 11, 2017. (A. Martinez/VOA)
Yoga enthusiasts participate in a simultaneous session on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border wall at Peace Park near San Diego, Calif., Feb. 11, 2017. (A. Martinez/VOA)

More than 14 million cars and 7 million pedestrians crossed the border at San Ysidro in 2015; last July alone, roughly 20,000 were crossing on foot every day, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The local San Diego Union-Tribune has noted San Ysidro is the Western Hemisphere’s busiest land port, connecting the Mexican city of Tijuana with the greater San Diego area. People frequently travel back and forth to work, shop and visit.

Everard Meade, who directs the Trans-Border Institute at the private University of San Diego, cautioned that the executive order’s exact impact cannot be gauged yet.

"It is far too soon to tell if there was some kind of fear effect," he responded to VOA in an email Monday. "Most regular crossers are going for business, school and family obligations that they cannot simply cancel or postpone indefinitely."

He also said a thorough assessment "would have to account for protests in Mexico, which have shut down the border crossing every weekend since the beginning of the year. While the protests began over Mexico ending its gasoline subsidy, they have morphed into a broader protest against President Trump's proposed wall and the perceived weakness of the Mexican government in the face of provocation from the new administration in the United States."

Matters of access

Businessman Aguirre serves on the institute’s advisory council. He suggested the renewed attention on the border can have a positive impact – if key people realize that frequent north-south crossings serve as economic engines for his and other U.S.-Mexico border communities.

"I believe it's a good time to realize the potential," Aguirre said.

Trump also had promised, during his campaign, to build or extend a wall along the nearly 2,000-mile border running east from San Ysidro to Brownsville, Texas. Fencing already stretches along some 650 miles.

Groups gathering at Friendship Park just south of San Diego, California, have staged various events to expand civic awareness about the measure.

On Saturday, the Border Angels – a volunteer advocacy group focused on immigration reform – organized a cross-border yoga session for the second consecutive year. (Previous sessions by other groups date to at least 2008.)

Instructor Mark Andeya offered the yoga bridge as a possible metaphor for policymakers.

"There are barriers that divide countries, and there are emotional barriers that prevent or block healthy relationships," he said, adding that certain barriers are favorable. "… The idea is to learn to take the favorable and to reject from a little the unfavorable."

Carol Guensburg contributed to this report from VOA's Spanish service.

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