SAN DIEGO — The immigration debate in the United States sometimes annoys middle-class Baja residents, but it doesn’t stop them from crossing the border to shop in San Diego.
Shopping centers like Las Americas Premium Outlets were packed with Spanish-speaking customers over the weekend, some literally leaving with a suitcase full of clothes from stores like Old Navy, Levi’s and Nautica.
“It’s not all for me. I’m doing the shopping for my mom, my aunts, cousins, nieces, etcetera,” said Ale Flores, a Tijuana resident, as her husband pushed the suitcase into the back of their SUV.
A quarter-mile away, strip malls along East San Ysidro Boulevard teemed with shoppers who’d had crossed on foot from Tijuana.
“The last time my daughter and I came to Ross and Las Americas we were looking for bargains. (Today) we got some clothes and groceries … A lot of things are affordable,” said Lluvia Mendez, another shopper.
The Mexican shoppers are a powerful economic engine in southern San Diego County, merchants and commerce officials said.
“So I represent about 800 businesses, 650 of them have a ZIP code within a mile of the port of entry,” said Jason Wells, executive director of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve got basically two main streets, the Boulevard and Camino de la Plaza, which is where all of our outlets are. On the Boulevard, about 95% of our customers are coming from Mexico.”
So it’s important to the merchants that their guests from Tijuana feel at ease and keep coming back. The ongoing immigration debate — with some politicians occasionally making pejorative blanket remarks against all Mexicans — borders on being insulting, says the Flores couple. However, they keep coming back.
“We know much of it is just politics … Trump keeping his voters happy. As long as it doesn’t affect us personally. …” Ale Flores said.
Immigration gets in the way of commerce in other ways as well. During the recent migrant surge from Central America that started last October and began to wind down in June, border wait times nearly doubled for motorists and pedestrians, as U.S. Customs and Border Protection had to reassign bridge inspectors to processing facilities and detention centers.
Some employees for merchants along San Ysidro Boulevard said business went down as border crossing times went up. Las Americas Premium Outlets declined to discuss the impact of its Mexican shoppers with Border Report and turned down a request to interview its merchants and record video.
Wells said that impact is massive.
“Every day through San Ysidro, about 110,000 to 120,000 people are crossing northbound — about the same amount as crossing southbound — so your average American city moves every day here in San Ysidro,” he said.
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