Column: We can’t let Trump close California’s gateway with Mexico
The brewing crisis at the San Ysidro Port of Entry on the U.S.-Mexico border is yet another deliberate insult to California by President Trump.
Let’s recap (so far). First he deployed a show of force better suited to “Call of Duty” than the busiest border crossing in the Western Hemisphere. Customs and Border Protection shut down San Ysidro for hours at a time in recent weeks, wreaking havoc on the estimated 175,000-plus people who cross daily and the multibillion-dollar San Diego-Tijuana economy. Military helicopters have buzzed along the border to try to terrify the thousands of Central Americans amassed in Tijuana while waiting to seek asylum here. Then on Sunday la migra fired tear gas canisters over the border to push back these refugees, including women and children.
Even the California Highway Patrol took part in this sad charade, blocking off the northbound 5 and 805 freeways Sunday.
For millions of Latinos, the Tijuana-San Diego checkpoint is a western Ellis Island.
Government authorities have treated the migrant caravan like a war game, a traffic accident or an invasion — but not like what it really is: an urgent, but completely manageable, flow of refugees.
American and Mexican right-wingers have demonized the roughly 4,700 mostly Hondurans who are now camped out in a sports complex in Tijuana after spending six weeks walking across Mexico. But they aren’t the enemy. They just want what refugees the world over have always sought: a safe and stable place to live.
The United States government could easily have dealt with this in an orderly, dignified way.
But “orderly” and “dignified” is not the Trump way.
If you’re a Californian — even one in the anti-immigrant-zealot mold of Stephen Miller — you should be furious at how Trump has used the San Ysidro crossing as a sacrificial pawn in his political game. This isn’t just any old stretch of road, or some border with Canada. This is a linchpin of California culture, a flow and fusion of people that epitomizes how the United States and Mexico can peacefully coexist, united under commerce and trust.
The Tijuana-San Diego checkpoint has meant multiple things to us for over a century, depending on who was crossing it and when. For millions of Latinos, it is a western Ellis Island. My mom and her siblings legally entered the United States here in the early 1960s. My dad, meanwhile, passed through illegally in the trunk of a Chevy driven by a hippie from Huntington Beach and her Mexican American boyfriend.
You don’t have to be an immigrant to have your own checkpoint story, though. Whether you’ve been a drunken reveler on Tijuana’s Avenida Revolución, a surfer returning to el Norte after a month hanging 10 in Todos Santos, a gearhead racing dune buggies in Baja, or a foodie seeking seafood in Ensenada, the San Ysidro crawl is something millions of Californians have had to endure. Californians visit Mexico, Mexicans do the reverse, and we don’t have a fit about it.
All of this is endangered, gracias to Trump.
With the threat of arbitrary shutdowns (Trump is already tweet-threatening to seal the border off permanently), the long waits to cross (it now frequently takes three hours) will worsen to the point that people won’t risk a trip lest they get stranded overnight or even for days. That hurts the Tijuana-San Diego economy (just an hours-long closure cost San Ysidro businesses $5.3 million, according to the city’s Chamber of Commerce) as well as the tens of thousands of Americans who make San Diego their home but travel daily to Baja. And it’s downright deadly to those who regularly go to Tijuana for affordable medical care and pharmaceuticals.
The U.S. government has a right to question everyone who wants to come into this country, and there should be a process to do so. But instead of wasting our military’s time and money to scare refugees (the final bill will total around about $210 million, according to the Pentagon figures), Trump should’ve allocated funds to the Department of Homeland Security to expand their capacity to process applications for asylum in San Ysidro. He could have allowed the Central Americans to make their way to Camp Pendleton to wait to hear their future, as tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees did in 1975.
But humanitarianism is not what Trump is about. His choice of San Ysidro is deliberate: He wants to disrupt the lives of Californians — the people who hate him the most — and make us blame Central American refugees for the fiasco instead of him.
Don’t fall for it, Californians. Instead, we need to defend this gateway. Let’s go to Rosarito this weekend and have the time of our lives. Let the checkpoint booths be overwhelmed by our crossborder reality. This is the entry point to California, after all, not Trump’s America.
A cure for the common opinion
Get thought-provoking perspectives with our weekly newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.