Border tensions threaten Arizona, border state economies

President Donald Trump’s battle for “the wall” heated up this week, stirring more tension over trade and commerce in border states like Arizona.

In a showdown with Congress this week, Trump has refused to lift a federal government shutdown if he does not get $5 billion for a border wall. He’s also threatened to close the border and cut aid to Central America.

“We will be forced to close the Southern Border entirely if the Obstructionist Democrats do not give us the money to finish the Wall & also change the ridiculous immigration laws that our Country is saddled with,” Trump tweeted Dec. 28. “Hard to believe there was a Congress & President who would approve!”

While many question Trump’s legal authority to do so, any kind of shut down of the southern border would be disastrous, merchants and border community leaders said.

Just ask Jason M-B Wells, executive director of the chamber of commerce for San Ysidro, Calif., which borders Tijuana.

Wells watched as 700 businesses were forced to close down for hours during Black Friday weekend because of a border scuffle between caravan migrants and the U.S. Border Patrol that erupted with agents deploying tear gas.

The incident caused most stores to shut down for the day. Retailers lost an estimated $5.3 million, Wells said.

Rahil Iqbal, who owns three discount stores at Las Americas Outlets of San Ysidro reported loss estimates of $20,000 to $25,000.

“It was a disaster for us. It was just a very important day lost,” Iqbal told Channel 7 television in San Diego.

He said 90 percent of his customers come from Tijuana and the border unrest has him concerned for the future of his businesses.

“The mere threat to close the border with Mexico is damaging to our economies, regardless if a closure were actually to happen,” Border Trade Alliance Chair Paola Avila, who also oversees international affairs for the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, said in a press release. “Two-way trade between our two countries has already exceeded $512 (in 2018). Discussion of closing the border creates uncertainty in the border economy and puts at risk the commerce and travel that links the U.S. and Mexico and that is responsible for millions of jobs.”

In Arizona, the heightened security, border arrests and incidents are also taking a toll on sales receipts, border town merchants and community officials said.

“The razor wire, the lane closures. Those are all things that hurt the image that we send to Mexican nationals, who would normally come up here and shop,” said Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce Bracker, whose jurisdiction includes the border city of Nogales. “Every retail business on the U.S.-Mexican border depends on Mexican nationals shopping in their establishments to survive and thrive.”

In Arizona, millions of people and legal immigrant workers walk or drive through border ports of entry every month, representing billions of dollars in commerce flowing back and forth. Mexico is Arizona’s number one trading partner and America’s third largest.

Dozens of state and community leaders including Gov. Doug Ducey and Congressman and former Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton have spent years working to mold strong economic ties with Mexico, one of the world’s largest economies.

Currently, the state is involved in helping modernize ports of entry and creating connector roads to streamline the flow of traffic at border points like the Raul H. Castro Port of Entry in Douglas. The Arizona-Mexico Commission has made major progress on issues ranging from streamlined cargo inspections, to energy, to highway safety.

If Trump follows through with threats to impose more trade barriers, it would cause serious harm to healthy economies on both sides, many trade advocates believe.

Chambers, business and industry across the nation are calling on Congress to quickly broker a fair deal for both sides on the border wall and focus on productive immigration and border policies that promote free trade, industry and communities’ economic health.

To encourage “common sense reforms,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce advocates for:

  • Improved enforcement to protect borders while facilitating the flow of trade and travel
  • A tough but fair process for 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. today to earn a legal status
  • A green card reform and implementation of temporary worker programs for high-skilled and lesser-skilled workers including those in the agriculture industry
  • A national employment verification system that is workable for employers

“Throughout our history, America has had the opportunity to grow and thrive because we have attracted and welcomed the most talented and the hardest working people to our shores,” the U.S. Chamber states. “But today our immigration system is broken and failing to meet the needs of our society, our economy, our businesses, and our workers.”

As America’s leaders continue to barter, will they act soon enough?

Victoria Harker

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