Businesses on both sides of the border await PedWest reopening
The PedWest pedestrian border crossing has been closed to the public since April 2020 due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, Jessie Heredia frequently considered closing her hair salon. His Tijuana business is just steps from the border crossing.
After Mexican authorities cleared a migrant camp that had been set up for nearly a year on the Mexican side of the pedestrian crossing, the question has arisen again of when operations will resume in Pedwest.
The answer is still unknown. The reason for this is a staffing issue on the part of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection will continue to assess staffing levels to determine when we will be able to safely and sustainably resume normal travel, and will be sure to announce any change in hours of operation before the new hours go into effect,” a CBP San Diego spokesperson said in a statement.
Businesses on both sides of the border are hopeful the reopening will come soon, as they say they have been economically harmed by the closure of this second pedestrian crossing at the Tijuana-San Ysidro border.
“Hopefully things will get back to normal,” said Heredia, owner of Jessie’s Barber Shop.
Most of its customers are San Ysidro residents who live near the Las Americas mall within walking distance of Pedwest, Heredia said.
When PedWest was open, its customers could easily walk a few minutes across Tijuana, and once they were done, they could quickly return home through the same border crossing. When it closed, things got tougher.
“For me, the more people go through, the better,” he said.
The PedWest border crossing, which opened in July 2016, ceased operations in April 2020, shortly after restrictions on non-essential travel took effect at the U.S.-Mexico land border.
At the time, the number of crossings would have dropped considerably, so that only the PedEast border crossing near the tramway in San Ysidro remained open.
In February 2021, while the PedWest remained closed, hundreds of migrants seeking asylum in the United States set up a makeshift camp near the border crossing known on the Mexican side as El Chaparral.
At that time, the Biden administration announced that the Stay in Mexico program would end and those enrolled in it would be transferred to the United States. Misinformation and rumors circulated among asylum seekers in Tijuana, many of whom had already been waiting months or years for the United States to process them. Some decided their best chance of being included in the changes coming from the Biden administration was to stay at the port of entry.
In November 2021, restrictions on non-essential border travel were lifted for fully vaccinated travellers.
On Sunday, Mexican authorities relocated nearly 400 migrants who remained at the site. Tijuana Mayor Montserrat Caballero said the relocation was necessary to ensure the safety and health of people living in the camp.
Baja California government secretary Catalino Zavala acknowledged at the state government’s weekly press conference on Wednesday that “there are efforts in general to regularize binational activities.” He added that there was still no date for the reopening of the Pedwest.
On Monday, a day after the camp was pulled out, Tijuana city workers were seen cleaning and renovating signs on the Mexican side.
The area continues to be fenced and some Mexican National Guard troops are expected to remain temporarily.
Enrique Lucero, municipal director of migrant services in Tijuana, said his office plans to set up an information booth for migrants still arriving in El Chaparral.
“The camp has become a point of reference for asylum seekers. People thought this was the place to come, and they kept coming. So (we) want to avoid that,” he said on Monday.
David Nevarez is a taxi driver working around El Chaparral for over four years. While he said he hopes all relocated families get the help they need, he also felt excited about the possibility of PedWest reopening.
He recalled that when PedWest was open, allowing more people to enter Mexico, he could make up to seven trips a day, many to places frequented by tourists, such as Puerto Nuevo, Ensenada or Rosarito. When the door closed two years ago, that number dropped by more than half.
“I survived because God is great,” Nevarez said.
Even with the low turnover, he preferred not to change his work route. While there are indeed more passengers outside the other port of entry in San Ysidro, there are also more vehicles around, he said.
He noted that around the border crossing, at least three businesses have closed in the past two years. Those who stayed had to find ways to attract customers beyond those using the border crossing.
Now, like many businesses around him, he has his fingers crossed that the border crossing will reopen soon. “There will still be work to do,” he hoped.
On the other side of the border, in San Ysidro, the pressure is also mounting.
Jason Wells, director of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce, said the second crosswalk was needed to reduce border wait times and help the economy. “For San Ysidro to work, there must be efficient access from Tijuana. Period,” he said.
San Ysidro is heavily dependent on customers from Mexico. The lifting of border travel restrictions in November helped businesses, but more needs to be done, Wells said.
“We had the holiday season we needed, but not the one we would have liked,” said Wells, who noted that long lines to cross the border continue to impede traffic.
Writer Kate Morrissey contributed to this report.