EL PASO, Texas, April 2 (UPI) -- Businesses, educational institutions and people who live and work on both sides of the border in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, are on alert if President Donald Trump follows through with his threat to close the southern border.
"I'm frustrated with what we are having to deal with," Dee Margo, El Paso's Republican mayor, said during an interview in his City Hall office. "Closing the border would be detrimental to El Paso and the nation at large."
He added: "We are the 10th or 11th largest port of entry. We have $103 billion per year of trade going through this port. There are 115,000 jobs on this side of the border tied to manufacturing in Juárez. There are more than 20,000 pedestrians and 35,000 private passenger vehicles that cross each day. Closing the border would be a crippler for this city, for Texas and for the nation as a whole."
El Paso's business leaders said they share the mayor's frustration.
"Shutting down the border would be devastating for the entire country," said Jon Barela, CEO of the Borderplex, a binational and regional trade organization focused on Las Cruces, N.M., El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
"There is $557 billion of trade between the United States and Mexico each year. It is estimated that there's $ 1 million of trade with Mexico every minute. American businesses from agriculture to auto parts would be negatively impacted," Barela said.
The possible border closure coincides with U.S. Customs and Border Protection reassigning 750 officers to process apprehended migrants. They had been performing regular port of entry duties, such as searching vehicles and checking travel documents. The officers' reassignment has caused wait times to surge to up to five hours for lawful travelers at ports of entry from Ciudad Juarez into El Paso.
"Wait times at our ports of entry are unpredictable," Barela said. "Just the threat of closing the border affects wait times. Small businesses in El Paso are adversely affected. Between 15 to 30 percent of retail trade in this region depends on Mexican nationals."
Businesses in Ciudad Juárez also depend on customers from El Paso. Dentists' offices are common in that city's downtown, and many accept U.S. insurance to cater to U.S. patients. "You only see cars backed up like this at Christmas or Easter. This is really unusual," said Anel Orozpe, a dentist who works at Smile Dental on Avenida de las Americas and who said she has a "sizable business" treating Americans.
"On Thursday, my U.S. patients started to cancel because of the lines," Orozpe said. "They don't want to wait in lines for four or five hours to get back to El Paso. This definitely affects our business."
The University of Texas at El Paso issued advice for faculty and students Monday about the possible border closing and wait times. School officials noted that pedestrian wait times to enter El Paso on the downtown bridge from Juarez had risen to two hours, and drivers reported up to five hours waiting in line for customs and immigration officers.
"Approximately 1,000 students commute between El Paso and Juárez," university officials said. "We ask for your sensitivity as this unpredictable issue unfolds, and your consideration of the effects this may have on our campus community's ability to cross the border or arrive punctually to class or work."
The university said its International Resource Center would help affected students and faculty with immigration concerns, temporary housing, food and counseling and psychological services.
Carlos Montoya is a U.S. citizen who lives in El Paso but has family in Juarez whom he supports. On Monday, the first day of the month, he needed to go to Juarez to pay his sister's bills. But instead, he stood at the bridge, surveying the lines of pedestrians on the other side waiting to enter the United States, and struggling to decide about crossing.
"It was meant to be a quick run, 15 minutes to the bank in Juarez and back. But now I'm wondering whether I should go or not." he said.
"Closing the border is illogical," Montoya said about the president's threat. "Juarez and El Paso will be penalized. We are sister countries. We can't treat each other like this, threatening to close the border. The president is frightening people."