National News

What Border Chaos Means for San Ysidro

Posted November 28, 2018 3:23 p.m. EST

Over the weekend, chaos erupted at the San Ysidro, California, border crossing, as U.S. agents fired tear gas at Central American migrants trying to cross into the country from Tijuana. I asked New York Times national correspondent Jennifer Medina to talk about what these kinds of confrontations might mean for the region. Here’s our conversation, edited and condensed for space.

Jill Cowan: You and our colleague, Jose A. Del Real, reported on the economic impact of shutting down one of the busiest border crossings in the world. Can you describe what San Ysidro is like?

Jennifer Medina: San Ysidro is a kind of suburb of San Diego. Like many Southern California towns, one of the defining features is the sprawling strip malls.

In this case, that includes the giant outlet mall. And across the street there’s a bunch of discount chains, like Ross and T.J. Maxx. I’ve been to outlet malls along the 5 Freeway where many — maybe even the majority — of customers are Latino. But this is something different. We’re talking about 90 percent of customers coming from south of the border.

Cowan: Tell me about the situation there now.

Medina: People who live along the San Ysidro section of the border are always watching carefully. They monitor wait times, they read the news from Mexico, they pay attention to whatever the president is saying. Thousands commute for work and school.

Those commuters are really concerned that the border is going to suddenly become a far less predictable place. Many of them say that San Diego and Tijuana are one region, codependent on each other. If they can’t easily move, it will have a massive impact on the economy and the emotional feel of the place.

There have been fights on this part of the border for decades — in the height of California’s intense battles over illegal immigration, there were often images of people running through the fields in Tijuana at night to enter the U.S.

And of course, there was the infamous freeway sign.

Cowan: The one depicting the shapes of running people crossing? Yep, I know that one.

Medina: Who could forget it?

Cowan: Are folks worried that this kind of opening and closing of the border will be a new normal?

Medina: They really don’t know what to expect, given the president’s pronouncements.

Cowan: Are business groups in the San Diego area trying to make contingency plans if this kind of disruption becomes more frequent? Business hates uncertainty.

Medina: It does. The Chamber of Commerce is focusing on communication with Border Patrol, trying to get as much advance notice of any closings as they possibly can.

I think the question for them is what happens to the $255 billion Cali-Baja regional economy if the region is sliced in half.