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Policies intended to contain the spread of coronavirus have also led to a sharp decline in apprehensions of people crossing the border illegally. Legal pedestrian traffic is down, too, but commercial vehicle traffic has remained unchanged.
The coronavirus has upended schools, government and the economy, but it’s unclear whether it’s had the same impact on certain portions of the border region.
Law enforcement officials in both San Diego and Tijuana are enforcing stay-at-home orders. NBC 7 reports that the San Diego Sheriff’s Department on Friday issued more than 20 citations to people at beaches in Encinitas, which are closed. Police in Tijuana and Mexicali have also been enforcing similar public health orders in Baja California, including Playas de Tijuana.
Policies intended to contain the spread of coronavirus have also led to a sharp decline in apprehensions of people crossing the border illegally, which is generally used as a proxy for how many people are crossing. Prior to the outbreak, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents were encountering nearly 10,000 migrants crossing illegally at the U.S.-Mexico border on a weekly basis, but they’re now seeing about 4,200, according to a Department of Homeland Security update Monday.
CBP began limiting hours at ports of entry over the weekend. Ped West, the pedestrian crossing on the west side of the San Ysidro Port of Entry, is now closed.
With unprecedented border restrictions in place to try and quell the cross-border spread of the virus, CBP told me last week that they have seen a 70 to 80 percent reduction in passenger traffic across the entire San Diego field-office, which includes the San Ysidro, Otay Mesa and Tecate ports of entry.
Commercial cross-border traffic has remained unchanged, though, CBP told me. The restrictions were structured to maintain cross-border trade flows and limit people crossing for tourism or recreation. Between March 30 and April 5, CBP facilitated $21 billion worth of goods crossed back and forth along the entire U.S.-Mexico border.
The economic impacts, meanwhile, are mixed. While 19 maquiladoras will be temporarily closing, impacting approximately 4,200 workers in Tijuana, those that produce medical devices have seen dramatic increases in demand for ventilators, the Union-Tribune reports.
Organized crime seems so far unaffected by the global pandemic.
March saw 169 registered homicides in Tijuana, Tijuana Press reports. The city has almost reached 500 homicides so far in 2020.
CBP hasn’t released its drug seizure numbers for March yet, but experts have told me during previous border disruptions that drug smugglers often take advantage of uncertainty. Criminal organizations may try to send more drugs through, they said, hoping that CBP officers will want to accommodate people who’ve been waiting by keeping the line moving.
“Drug smuggling orgs are only in it for profits so for the extent they can take advantage of what is happening at the border, they will,” a former DHS official told me back in 2018 when the arrival of migrant caravans disrupted business as usual at the border.
Agents on the San Diego Tunnel Task Force — which includes several national and local law enforcement agencies — recently discovered a sophisticated drug tunnel in Otay Mesa. The more than 2,000-foot tunnel extended underground from a warehouse in Tijuana to a warehouse in Otay Mesa, and had reinforced walls, ventilation, lighting and an underground rail system.
Agents seized roughly 1,300 pounds of cocaine, 86 pounds of methamphetamine, 17 pounds of heroin, 3,000 pounds of marijuana and more than two pounds of fentanyl from the tunnel. It’s the first time in San Diego’s history when five different types of drugs were found inside a single tunnel. The street value of the drugs seized from the tunnel is estimated at $29.6 million.
“I can tell you that despite this public health crisis, employees at the DEA are continuing our efforts to keep the public safe from the deadly drugs that cartels smuggle into our country and push into our communities,” Special Agent Kameron Korte of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s San Diego office told me via e-mail.
The discovery of the tunnel came less than two months after authorities discovered the longest drug tunnel ever found along the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego.