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Temporary Shutdown Of U.S.-Mexico Border Had Large Economic Impact For Businesses


Now to California, where it has been five days since U.S. border guards shut down the port of entry at San Ysidro near San Diego for several hours. The extraordinary move came after hundreds of Central American migrants rushed the border. Guards used tear gas on the crowd and blocked all incoming traffic. Now nearly all the lanes from Mexico into the U.S. are back open, though not all the traffic has come back. From member station KQED, Lily Jamali reports.

LILY JAMALI, BYLINE: When all northbound lanes into San Ysidro were shut down on the Sunday after Black Friday, to business owners it was akin to cutting off their oxygen supply. Here, at the busiest crossing in the Western Hemisphere, an average of 70,000 vehicles and 20,000 pedestrians come into the U.S. each day.

One of the first landmarks they see is the Las Americas outlet mall, a mix of chain and small retailers. Midweek, it was virtually empty. Isela Castillo owns a clothing boutique here called Bohemian Corner. She estimates that 9 out of 10 of her customers come from Tijuana just over the border in Mexico.

ISELA CASTILLO: After the events from that - you know, that happened this weekend, traffic has been considerably, like, low compared to, you know, the traffic we had last year around this time. The feedback from customers is that they don't want to risk crossing and then getting stuck at the border for, like, five, six hours just in case they close because you never know what's going to happen.

JAMALI: When the border closed, the operators of the mall shut down operations here too. Luis Bernal runs a kiosk selling mobile phones. He explains that all the vendors face higher rents in the Christmas season. So if the border and the mall were to shut down again...

LUIS BERNAL: Especially if it happens in December, I - that would be a bad Christmas. There's a lot of foot traffic. Rent goes up. You know, it's bad.

JAMALI: Retailers here make about a third of their revenue for the year during the all-important holiday season, according to the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, which estimates the city of San Ysidro alone took a $5.3 million hit on that day.

PAOLA AVILA: The impacts are actually still being felt.

JAMALI: Paolo Avila is vice president of international business affairs at the Chamber.

AVILA: It's not just the impacts from that one day, but because of that one day's closure and the two closures prior to that, we've discouraged business from happening, consumers from crossing the border.

JAMALI: Avila says the region has a shared workforce and binational businesses that rely on efficient cross-border traffic.

AVILA: In reality, we're one city. We're one organism, so it's trying to figure out how to divide a single organism. That's some serious surgery.

JAMALI: San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer just returned home from Washington, D.C., where, on a prescheduled trip, border relations came up in talks with Trump administration officials. He says an open border is incredibly important to San Diego's economy.

KEVIN FAULCONER: Nobody wants to see any closures. That's been clear from day one. And so from my standpoint, it's really important to reiterate not only to our - particularly our federal officials how important it is to keep this - these cross-travel, border trade promotion going. Our economies are linked.

JAMALI: This week, President Trump threatened on Twitter to close the border permanently if need be to defend against what he called stone-cold criminals. With $1.6 billion in cross-border trade happening all along the U.S.-Mexico border each day, a move like that seems highly unlikely. But after Sunday, no one here is dismissing the possibility of more short-term closures at a time of year when it matters most. For NPR News, I'm Lily Jamali in San Ysidro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lily Jamali