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Asylum-seekers are also struggling, Baja is seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases and more in our biweekly roundup of border news.
The coronavirus-related restrictions on non-essential travel across the border have hit San Ysidro businesses hard.
At least 103 businesses have closed due to the border-crossing restrictions, said Jason Wells, the executive director of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce.
Typically, the clientele of businesses along San Ysidro Boulevard are made up of about 95 percent of people from Mexico, the majority of whom have tourist visas, Wells said. For the larger outlets, about 65 percent of clientele are from Mexico.
The holidays — between Nov. 20 and Jan. 6 — are particularly important to businesses along the border, as they are to many stores and businesses throughout the city. Wells said typically about 35 percent of businesses in San Ysidro generate their net gain in that period.
And while there will likely still be some sort of uptick this year, it probably won’t be enough to make up for the damage that border restrictions have caused. Wells said he expects the Christmas season to bring in about a third of the economic value it normally does.
“The federal government has really left us hanging,” Wells said. The San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce has sent letters to the president, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico and others, pleading that the restrictions be lifted sooner than later. So far they’ve only received a response from U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau.
“I understand the Southern California business community’s frustration with these restrictions, and I share your concern about the long-term effect of the pandemic on our economies,” Landau wrote. “I want to assure you I am working with other U.S. agencies and with Mexico to identify safe ways to ease the restrictions in the future and support our border communities.”
At this point, Wells doesn’t think the restrictions are even truly COVID-related, but simply something the administration has long wanted to do and for which the pandemic provided a justification.
“This isn’t about COVID,” Wells said. “These restrictions have no basis on or impact on health and that’s been documented.”
At this point, Wells is trying to get creative to help existing businesses make it through the remainder of the pandemic. They’re using Facebook videos promoting San Ysidro businesses to get more clientele from north of the border and painting murals in the area to attract visitors. Wells said they are planning some drive-in concerts at the newly built Tianguis market.
“We’re doing everything that we can, after fighting unsuccessfully for these arbitrary restrictions to be lifted,” he said.
Apprehensions of people who cross the U.S.-Mexico border have been steadily increasing for the past six months. There were more than 69,000 such crossings in October — the highest since July 2019, the Associated Press reports.
The increase shouldn’t be that surprising. As I’ve reported, many asylum-seekers stranded in Tijuana are facing increasingly desperate situations amid the pandemic. The coronavirus restrictions, paired with officials’ ability to immediately turn back people at the border during the pandemic, have accelerated a shift in who is crossing the border, the Associated Press reported in October. Now, more Mexican men who come for economic reasons are trying to cross, rather than asylum-seekers from Central America, Africa and elsewhere.
Al Otro Lado, an organization that provides legal assistance to migrants along California’s border, has expanded its fundraising beyond legal services to include direct aid in the form of food and housing assistance, urgent medical care, personal protective equipment and hygiene supplies, and phone and internet assistance for asylum-seekers in Tijuana.
As of November, there were more than 15,000 names on seven asylum waitlists in Mexican border cities, according to the Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law. Most of the names are on Tijuana’s list.