By Raoul Lowery Contreras
President Trump’s now postponed threat to shut the Mexican border was not without support among some Republicans, proving that understanding of the role of the border remains limited.
“What we need to realize is until we close that southern border, every town’s a border town. Every state’s a border state because drugs, human trafficking, sex trafficking, gangs it’s all there on the southern border,” Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn told Fox News this week.
But what really goes on along the border is the daily movement of tens of thousands of employees, thousands of trucks and billions of dollars in trade.
Every day 25,000 men, women and children legally walk across the border between San Diego and Tijuana. That’s almost 10 million a year.
On average, nearly 2,500 commercial trucks cross the border each day from Tijuana into San Diego County. That’s almost a million a year.
Despite all this legal traffic of people, goods and services, there are two illegal components that cross the border. The first is people. That peaked in 2000 and has been dwindling since. Those people were mostly coming for jobs.
The current, temporary spike in migration is people coming from Central America with the hope of gaining legal entry by asylum. A large percentage are families.
The other component is what President Trump railed about on Wednesday: illegal narcotics. He blames Mexico for the heroin, cocaine and meth entering the country. That is a true charge. He doesn’t, however, blame the stupidity of millions of Americans who support the narcotics industry by buying and using narcotics to begin with.
Could the United States have shut the border to people, vehicles and trade without economic damage? We know the answer from experience.
Federal officials closed the San Ysidro border crossing last November for five hours on a Sunday afternoon. Border Patrol agents held the line against several hundred Central Americans who tried to breech vulnerable spots in the 12 miles of fencing between San Diego and Tijuana.
Customs and Border Protection officials used tear gas. But that wasn’t enough. They also shut down traffic and pedestrian crossings at San Ysidro a mile away, those very lanes that carry millions of people and millions of dollars in goods.
Hundreds of overtime hours were logged by the Border Patrol as well as the California Highway Patrol, San Diego Police, and San Diego Sheriff’s deputies. Out of sight were hundreds of Marines waiting for orders to back up the civilian law enforcement.
And what about the myriad merchants of the border business community who sell food, goods and services to thousands of Mexicans who cross the border every hour? Those merchants were sucker-punched.
When federal officials closed the border for five hours, thousands of Americans in traffic lanes and pedestrian lines were stranded. The shutdown cost San Diego border merchants, restaurants and gas stations an estimated $5.3 million. Assuming 80 percent would have been spent on taxed purchases, an estimated $346,000 in tax revenue was lost.
The closure would have cost $1.6 million for every hour it continued. If the entire border was closed, the same would happen throughout Arizona and Texas, and in fact all along the 1,900-mile border with Mexico.
Closing the border would not only cost billions of dollars in sales of goods and services, it would cost blue-collar American jobs. It might throw the entire U.S. and Mexican economies into recession. Americans would suffer; desperate Mexicans would sneak across the border looking for work.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates millions of Americans work in trade with Mexico. It follows that if the border is closed, those very jobs will be threatened — not by a few hours or days of closure, but by a “long-time” closure.
Lastly, no amount of tariffs on Mexican-made cars, cans of jalapeno chili peppers or crates of avocados will have any lasting effect on the border as far as narcotics and the heavy dependence on them that the weakest among us have.
Raoul Lowery Contreras is a political consultant and author of the new book White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPS) & Mexicans. His work has appeared in the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.
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