© Alejandro Tamayo / Alejandro Tamayo / The San Diego Union Tribune
Tijuana, Baja California, May 22nd, 2020 | At the pedestrian crossing people sleep in line waiting for the border to open. People have been sleeping in their cars at the Otay border to wait for the port of entry to open; it started happening after the hours of service of the border port of entry were reduced. | (Alejandro Tamayo, The San Diego Union Tribune 2020)

Dozens of workers sleep on the sidewalk or in their cars to be the first to cross the border once the Otay Mesa gate opens.

This image has been a constant since the port of entry, which previously operated 24 hours, closed at night.

They can’t afford to be late, so they prefer to sleep uncomfortably before risking the unpredictable lines at San Ysidro.

Since the beginning of the month, the Otay Mesa gatehouse operates from 6 a.m. at 10 p.m., in response to a decrease in the volume of border crossings stemming from travel restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response, border traffic in the Tijuana-San Diego region is concentrated at the San Ysidro gate that continues to be open 24 hours a day, although with fewer lanes in operation.

This is how the routine of cross-border workers who start their working hours early changed. Some tried to line up early for San Ysidro, but report delays of more than four hours to cross.

« We cannot trust each other, » says Porfirio Pérez, who works in a mechanical workshop in San Diego.

For this reason, he arrived at the Otay Mesa gatehouse at 10:30 p.m. Thursday, parked in one of the lanes and slept in his car. He has been doing the same for three weeks and he says he is tired. « It is stressful, we hardly sleep and half, » he says.

Julio Quintero did the same the night before to get to work in Chula Vista on Thursday.

He’s also been sleeping in the car for three weeks so he already knows the routine. He only takes a blanket in the car and sleeps in the back.

At her job, a flower shop, they give her the opportunity to be half an hour late because they know how the situation is at the border, she says. You ever tried to line up for San Ysidro, but the line seemed endless.

That is why he prefers at least to sleep than to spend the night in line and using gas. « It’s very tiring, but what can we do. »

Other workers who live near the gate have chosen to leave their car at night and return to line minutes before 6 a.m. Quintero says that for safety reasons he prefers to spend the night with his vehicle.

To one side, in the pedestrian crossing, dozens wait asleep in folding chairs or flat, on the ground covered with a blanket.

Javier Sánchez, a construction worker in San Diego, adopted this routine last week and said the most tiring thing is not knowing until when everything will return to normal.

The governments of Mexico and the United States agreed this week to extend until at least June 22 the travel restrictions at the border imposed to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the border crossing from Mexico to the United States is maintained only for US citizens and legal permanent residents, as well as for individuals traveling for medical, educational, employment and other reasons considered essential.

Not so, for those who do it for recreational or tourism purposes.

Official statements

Gustavo de la Fuente, executive director of the Smart Border Coalition organization, considered that the US authority should take note of the waiting times, which would continue to increase as activities resume in the county.

« As businesses in San Diego are opening or accepting more employees to return to work at their facilities, there will be more traffic crossing. »

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved a plan this week to expedite a second phase to reopen businesses. This would allow some stores and restaurants to resume activities as long as they follow the indications of social distancing, among other measures.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) acknowledged that travelers could experience longer delays due to restrictions and temporary closures of some lanes.

« We monitor and make daily operating adjustments, depending on the total workload at each gate. While travel restrictions are maintained, we are focused on maintaining wait times for workers who cross during similar peak hours of the week. to what they were before they were imposed, « the agency said in a statement.

Last week compared to the beginning of March, a 49 percent decrease in vehicle traffic and 39 percent in pedestrians was reported at the San Ysidro gate, according to CBP.

In March 2019, a flow of 2 983 558 travelers was reported, while in March of this year, the number was 2 167 567.

The options

Meanwhile, there are workers who consider other options to arrive on time.

David Ramos, who works in the kitchen of a San Diego veterans asylum, prefers to cross San Ysidro at night and sleep on the other side of the border.

« I do not see the case of staying a few meters from the sentry box when you can cross and sleep at your work or near your work, » he considers.

Before the contingency, he left his house four hours in advance to go to work on Sundays and Monday at 4:30 in the morning, and the rest of the week at 7 in the morning. He prefers to cross at night because he has already seen lines of up to 6 hours in San Ysidro.

Meanwhile, mornings around the Otay Mesa sentry box go from deathly silence to activity.

Around 5:30 in the morning you can hear cell phone alarms.

By 5:55, the ignition of the cars or the noise of those who form in the pedestrian line.

At 6 o’clock in the morning dozens of workers begin to move who regret that at least for now, they will have to do this again.

Read this in Spanish.