San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria met with federal officials in Washington, DC last week to advocate for the full reopening of the border, which has been closed to non-essential land travel for a year and a half.
Gloria spoke to White House officials, senators and representatives during her first visit as mayor. He said it was crucial to raise awareness among policymakers about how these restrictions are hurting border communities.
“While we did not get details on when these restrictions might be lifted, there was at least recognition of the challenges facing our community and many of the inequalities that are part of it,” Gloria said in an interview via Zoom.
The US Department of Homeland Security announced last month that the ban on non-essential travel would remain until at least October 21. But as has happened every month for the past year and a half, the federal agency could extend them again.
San Ysidro businesses lost about $ 644 million in sales and about 1,900 jobs between March 2020 and March 2021, according to the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce.
In addition, nearly 200 of San Ysidro’s 650 businesses have closed since travel restrictions were imposed, according to the chamber.
“A lot of border businesses on the San Diego side are closing because they just don’t have the number of customers they used to have,” said Jerry Sanders, president and CEO of the Regional Chamber of Commerce of San Diego.
“People have really crossed this border in a fluid way to shop on both sides, and now that the border is closed for most people, that makes things really difficult,” he added in a statement. interview at Business without Borders Congress in Tijuana.
Both sides of the San Diego-Baja border have similar COVID vaccination figures, Gloria noted.
In San Diego County, 78.8 percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, while in Baja California 80.5% are fully vaccinated, according to the latest data.
“When you can share this information in person, face to face, I hope it stays in their consciousness when they decide whether or not to extend these bans,” Gloria said.
Mexico recently completed a mass vaccination plan in 45 municipalities along its northern border with the United States
From June 17 to September 13, approximately 3.8 million vaccines were administered. This is part of a plan to speed up the reopening of the border.
Carlos González Gutiérrez, Mexican Consul General in San Diego, praised Gloria’s commitment to defending the border and added that Mexico is also doing its part, with vaccination programs and maintaining a high-level political dialogue.
“We are very clear without it being necessary to read between the lines, the President of Mexico (Andrés Manuel López Obrador) said that the border should already be open,” said González Gutiérrez.
Meanwhile, restrictions on international air travel for 33 countries are expected to ease in November. Flights between the United States and Mexico were not restricted during the pandemic.
Gloria said it was frustrating to see that while there is progress in easing restrictions on air travel, this is still not the case for vehicles and pedestrians.
“I hope that by increasing this contrast we are planting the seeds for a change in policy,” Gloria said.
However, reopening the border to non-essential travel might not be the only issue ahead. Customs and border protection officials reminded Gloria that their workforce is still limited due to the pandemic.
Gloria said she asked for budget increases and appropriate staffing, given that construction of a third port of entry at the Tijuana-San Diego border is underway.
“The first mountain we have to climb is politics, but after that make sure the staff are in place.”
Carlos Alberto Jaramillo, chairman of the Tijuana Economic Development Corporation group, pointed out that the current long waits are affecting US citizens living in Mexico.
“It just shows that even though we have a partially closed border, the momentum is still impressive,” he said.
Gloria said he would work with other border mayors – from the northern and southern borders – to continue pushing for a full reopening.
“I think (…) that we will eventually be successful, it’s just a matter of waiting time that we have to do,” he said.
“I recognize that every day that passes is a day when we can lose another local business, and of course it is catastrophic.”