US President Donald Trump launched his election campaign with a promise to build a wall along America’s long — and porous — southern border with Mexico. PHOTO: AFP Photo/ALFREDO ESTRELLA
For 22 years, single mother Mayra Rodriguez has crossed daily from her Mexican hometown to her food-packing job in the United States, working to pay for her two children’s schooling.
Now she fears US President Donald Trump’s planned border wall will make her hours-long commute from Tijuana to San Diego even tougher.
Trump on Wednesday signed an order to build a border wall to keep out illegal migrants whom he blames for crime — a controversial key pledge of his election campaign.
Rodriguez, 42, a thin woman with long dyed-blonde hair, is not an illegal migrant.
She is employed by a factory packing frozen Mexican food in California — a lifeline for Mexicans from the dusty, poor desert region around Tijuana.
“I have the privilege of working there” in California, she says, her voice trembling as she queues up for food at a hotdog stand near the border crossing.
“Here I could not have achieved any of the things I have. I am a single mother,” she told AFP.
– Strong dollar, weak hopes –
Rodriguez spends two and hours getting to and from work each day, between public buses and time spent waiting in line at the Otay pedestrian border crossing.
She gets in line at Otay by 5:00 am. But for drivers leaving Tijuana at rush hour, it can take up to three hours to get out of the city.
Locals fear that Trump’s wall will worsen the congestion.
If tighter controls along the 3,200-kilometer (nearly 2,000-mile) border stop her getting to work on time, Rodriguez says, she may lose her job.
For now, she has to admit she has benefited in one sense from Trump taking office.
Concerns over his crackdown on trade and migration have caused the Mexican peso to weaken against the dollar, making her earnings worth more at home.
“Right now we are doing alright, thank God. I have mixed feelings. On the one hand my children live here. They have a good life thanks to the dollars I earn over there,” she said.
“I don’t like spending all my time over there, but I am afraid of losing the chance to come and go there every day.”
– Jobs at risk –
Overall more than a million people and 400,000 vehicles cross the border to the United States every day, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said recently.
In one line at Otay, cars and trucks advance at a snail’s pace as they wait to cross the border.
Vendors pass between them selling snacks and statues of the Virgin Mary.
Many of the vehicles are old and dirty and have California license plates.
“I am sure we are going to lose our jobs” due to Trump’s measures, said Julian Tamayo, 49, sitting at the wheel in one of the lines of cars.
He says he feels offended by rude treatment he receives from US border guards.
“What Trump is doing will give them a blank check to do it even more.”
– Climbing the fence –
As well as cars and people, Tijuana is a major access point for trucks loaded with merchandise.
Mexican truckers say it takes them years to obtain permits to enter the United States.
Now they fear losing them.
“If Trump does what he has said he will do, it is going to affect us,” said truck driver Roman Diaz, 45.
“We won’t be able to cross any more. This job of ours will be over. The uncertainty is unbearable.”
The queue at Otay stretches for two kilometers (1.2 miles) along the rusty wire border fence — a flimsier barrier than the “big, beautiful wall” Trump promises.
Amid the rumble of the truck’s engines as they grind along to the crossing, four men on foot scramble up and over the fence.
Minutes later, they rush back across to the Mexican side, pursued by a US Border Patrol truck.
Mayra Rodriguez’s working day is over. She heads off home to Tijuana.
But the four fence-climbers stay hanging around nearby, watching and waiting for a chance to cross unseen.