In-Depth: Businesses in San Ysidro wait for international border to reopen

Call for legal crossings to resume
Posted at 6:02 AM, Jun 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-15 09:35:07-04

SAN YSIDRO, Calif. (KGTV) - Business leaders along the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego say they won't fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic until the international border reopens for all legal crossings.

"San Ysidro really has been dead in the water for months," says Jason Wells, executive director of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce. "Unfortunately, for us, June 15 is just another Tuesday."

June 15 is the day of California's official "reopening," as state leaders lift all coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses and more.

But business owners in San Ysidro say that won't help them, because 95% of their customers come from Mexico, and they still can't cross the border until the federal government decides to reopen it.

"We need the border open," says Alfredo Ripa, manger of the Tianguis Swap Meet.

The swap meet had planned to open last year, but without customers from across the border, they've remained closed.

"So, we're sitting with this empty lot," says Ripa.

Wells says 197 of the 800 businesses in San Ysidro's 92173 have closed over the past 15 months. The chamber estimates that the region only had about $250 million in sales from March 2020 to March 2021. Wells says that number is around $895 million in a typical year.

Wells has been calling on local and state leaders to pressure the Biden administration to remove restrictions on the border.

County Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher says he's spoken to the administration and San Diego's congressional delegates about the issue.

"That’s the largest land crossing on the planet and it’s vital to our economy. It’s vital to our culture. It’s vital to our way of life," Fletcher says. "San Diego will not recover as a region until Mexico covers as a region. They are our largest trading partners. Not just San Diego, the entire United States is dependent on that economic tie with Mexico."

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria reached out to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and also the Department of Homeland Security. Gloria says reopening the border will give San Ysidro businesses hope for the future.

“We don’t have the clarity we want. We don’t even have a date for a potential reopening. That lack of certainty is as harmful as the closure itself," says Gloria.

Wells points out that the Tijuana region is in the "green" status for COVID-19 infection rates in Mexico, and vaccine numbers are rising.

"We’re hoping all of this will give them an excuse to finally get rid of these restrictions," he says. There's no logistical, logical, or scientific reason they need to do anything other than fully reopen for legal crossings."

The Biden administration says the border will remain closed until at least June 21. At that point, it could reopen, or the closure could be extended by another month.