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Border Report: California Reopened, But the Border Didn’t

The San Ysidro Port of Entry / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

California reopened last week, but the border remains closed to non-essential travel. And there is no timeline for when it might reopen.

The Trump administration first restricted non-essential travel in March 2020, with the stated purpose to slow the spread of COVID-19. Now that vaccination rates are on the rise and infection rates on the decline, that original reason behind the closure becomes less justified.

Meanwhile, businesses along San Ysidro continue to shut down and hundreds of thousands of people whose lives cross the border continue to be impacted by the Biden administration’s decision to keep it closed.

Personally, my abuela can’t visit me from her home in Mexico City. I mean, she technically could, but she’d have to pay for a much more expensive flight to Los Angeles rather than fly to Tijuana. And I’d have to drive up there to pick her up at LAX instead of the Cross Border Expressway.

It’s a relatively small inconvenience for me and my family.

The indefinite nature of these non-essential travel restrictions is also frustrating members of Congress.

Last month, a group of bipartisan lawmakers wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security asking for a roadmap toward the reopening of the border. The same group wrote an identical letter back in October 2020 that seems to have been ignored.

“On October 1, 2020, we requested then Secretary Chad Wolf to develop and publicly articulate a detailed plan, including benchmarks for LPOEs [land ports of entry] to return to full operations,” says the letter cosigned by four senators and four members of Congress [1]. “We have yet to receive a response to that letter. In light of the substantial progress the United States has made in distributing COVID-19 vaccines, we request DHS commit to a plan, benchmarks, and timeline to removing the restrictions on non-essential traffic through LPOEs.”

South of the border, the Mexican government is ramping up vaccination efforts with the hope of reopening the border.

Just last week, Mexico received 1.3 million vaccines from the United States. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he hopes to “vaccinate the population of the 39 municipalities along the northern border so that the border can be opened as soon as possible [2].”

Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the U.S.-Canada border will not reopen until 75 percent of Canadians have at least the first vaccine dose. Last week, the Canadian government announced that its border would remain closed to non-essential travel for another month — until July 21 [3].

It’s worth noting how both Canada and Mexico appear to be more transparent and active in regard to reopening the border than the United States.

Padilla’s Under-the-Radar Bill

Sen. Alex Padilla introduced a bill that would give people “the right to sue federal law enforcement officers in civil court for violating their civil and constitutional rights,” according to an announcement of the measure [4].

Under current law, federal law enforcement officers like ICE and Border Patrol agents can only be sued for a narrow set of civil claims like unreasonable searches and seizures, gender discrimination toward a federal employee and inadequate treatment of a federal inmate.

If Padilla’s bill passes – and that’s a huge if given partisan politics, congressional gridlock and pro-police sentiment among the political class – it could have huge implications in the borderlands.

For example, in the Hernandez v. Mesa case of 2017 [5] a Border Patrol Agent in El Paso shot and killed a 15-year-old boy in Juarez, Mexico. The boy’s family sued the agent, but in 2020 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the case did not fit within the narrow parameters that allow individuals to sue federal law enforcement officials.

Humanizing the Border

Kate Morrissey of the San Diego Union-Tribune and Max Rivlin-Nadler of KPBS wrote stories that capture the impact policies made in Washington D.C. have on people who live along the border.

Morrissey wrote about [6] Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for Haitian nationals. Countries can be designated for TPS when it is not safe for people to return there because of events like natural disasters or civil wars. The designation also protects migrants from that country living in the United States from deportation.

The story profiles a Hatian woman who entered the U.S. in 2011 after the massive earthquake in Haiti. She has been in this country for 11 years – all because of TPS.

The problem with this system is that it forces individuals to live in a constant state of limbo. They can be in the United States but their protected status could be revoked any time. The policy ignores the fact that people’s lives can’t be put on indefinite hold.

In this case, the Haitian woman got married and had three kids. Her husband, another Haitian national who didn’t qualify for TPS, was deported under the Trump administration.

Rivlin-Nadler wrote about another deported veteran who was allowed to re-enter the United States [7]. The 71-year-old veteran had been deported in 2010 after being convicted of a non-violent drug offense.

The story doesn’t delve too much into this, but I think the fact that the veteran’s deportation stems from a non-violent drug offense is significant.

As states legalize drugs that previously sent people to jail, advocates are talking about expunging criminal records. Most of that conversation is focused on criminal courts but not immigration courts. There is a well-documented prison-to-deportation pipeline, so much so that people who study it call it “crimmigration.”

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