At the time of publishing this column, Vice President Harris is visiting the iconic border city of El Paso. Her visit is not the product of happenstance but takes place in the context of those who push a narrative that constantly frames the U.S.-Mexico border as a “crisis” region and those who feel cautiously optimistic after her visit to Mexico City.
For the last four years, I’ve had the opportunity to be one of the citizens of the mega region known as “CaliBaja” which includes all the municipalities of Baja California and the San Diego and Imperial counties in California. In this short period, I have gone from studying U.S.-Mexico cooperation from afar to experiencing it firsthand as another “fronteriza” citizen.
Believe us when we tell you that talking about the U.S.-Mexico border is very different than living in the border region. My alternative itinerary, aimed at striking a balance between the “crisis” narratives and the realities of the border would include the following stops:
Crossing the San Ysidro-El Chaparral port of entry using the general lanes rather than the SENTRI lanes (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection) that allow expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers. San Ysidro-El Chaparral is the busiest border crossing in the Western hemisphere and while I certainly would not want the Vice President to spend three hours, perhaps even more, waiting in line, I would want to offer an immersive experience that shows the need for increasing the personnel working at the crossing This is not about emphasizing the interdiction metrics that so often accompany discussions about the U.S.-Mexico border but expediency for the licit trade and exchanges that take place every day in this region.
Cross Border Xpress (CBX) there is nothing like it in the rest of the U.S.-Mexico border. CBX is a 390 feet long pedestrian bridge for passengers of the Tijuana International Airport that allows travelers to cross the border between Mexico and the U.S. In other words, you land in Tijuana, and in 30 minutes or less (my personal record is 10 minutes) you can be in Otay on the U.S. side. Alternatively, you can cross from the U.S. side into Mexico and have access to more than 35 destinations in Mexico. CBX is an interesting stop because it shows what a 21st century border can look like.
And because most cannot afford the privilege of using CBX or even the general lanes at San Ysidro-El Chaparral, Vice President Harris should visit the Shelter for Unaccompanied Migrant Children set up at the San Diego Convention Center. This temporary emergency measure was originally put in place for 35 days in order to provide shelter for girls between the ages of 13-17 seeking asylum in the United States. If the U.S. and Mexico are committed to addressing the root causes of migration, it is paramount for both governments to understand why, even children, leave the only home they have ever known.
In the spirit of greater understanding, I would also suggest a visit to NGOs, such as Prevencasa based in Tijuana, focused on harm reduction. Most people have heard about drug tunnels, but it is far less common to learn about the everyday community-based public health efforts that have proven effective in preventing HIV and Hepatitis C. This visit would hopefully emphasize the need of treating drug use from a public health perspective rather than ineffective punitive measures. If I had my way, this would also foster a conversation about subnational cooperation and the urgency of having access to the life saving drug naloxone that reverts opioid overdoses and that is desperately needed at the border.