Category Archives: US-Mexican Border

Border Wall by San Diego Contractors

Bajadock: I would like to hear exactly how the new border wall “pushes” Mexican companies away from the US, according to professor James Gerber of San Diego State University.

San Diego-based companies that want to help build President Donald Trump’s border wall are rushing to submit proposals before the deadline next Wednesday.

Finalists selected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection will have to build a 30-foot long prototype in San Diego. Hundreds of companies across the U.S. have expressed interest in bidding.

Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, said it’s no surprise the government wants to start the border wall in San Diego, since it’s the second-largest Border Patrol sector. San Diego was also the place where the first border fence was erected.

“For a very long time San Diego was really ground zero for the Border Patrol in terms of illegal entries,” Moran said. “And it’s an area that has deep ties with government contractors and also have a large availability of area and diverse terrain where we can test our different strategies or technology.”

The Department of Homeland Security filed two requests for proposals last week, one for a concrete barrier and one for a barrier made of “other” materials permitting visibility of Mexico.

The wall must be between 18 and 30 feet tall and “aesthetically pleasing” on the U.S. side. It must prevent tunneling and climbing and resist a physical breach for at least one hour when exposed to a sledgehammer, a car jack, a pick axe and several other tools. A 10-by-10 foot version of the wall must be built and tested in San Diego, giving local companies an advantage because they know the terrain.

RELATED: San Diego Companies Wait To Bid On Trump’s Border Wall

It’s unclear whether construction on the wall will focus on the 1,300 miles that remain unfenced, or whether officials plan to rebuild the existing 700 miles of fencing – made of steel columns, corrugated steel plates and other materials.

Currently, about 700 miles of fencing exist along the 2,000-mile border betwe...


Currently, about 700 miles of fencing exist along the 2,000-mile border between the U.S. and Mexico.

One San Diego-based company that wants to build the wall is R.E. Staite Engineering, located on the San Diego Bay next to the naval base. It has led major construction projects all along the continent’s West Coast and led cleanup efforts after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

“We’re attracted to very complex, difficult projects in harsh environments – that’s what we do best,” said Ralph Hicks, vice president of governmental affairs.

Hicks said the company sees the wall as an economic opportunity for the region.

“We’re focused on the work. We’re not a political body, left or right or what have you, we go after the job and provide high paying jobs for our workforce and great opportunities for our company,” he said.

Most of the companies that have expressed interest in building the wall, including those led by Mexicans and a Puerto Rico-based company, have told reporters that they are interested for apolitical reasons.

Another San Diego company that wants to get involved is vScenario, which offers building planning services that harness technology and security expertise of former military professionals. Vice president Brian Holley said the company wants to help the government visualize the wall in the early stages, to avoid costly adjustments down the line.

“If the wall goes forward, that’s a decision by the president, by Washington, and we as a business and as taxpayers just simply want to make sure the wall is done in a cost-effective, productive way,” Holley said.

vScenario has specialized in security around electrical power grid facilities.

“If we were to be doing sections of this wall, we will continue to hire veterans and I think it’s a great way to bring back those patriots into our society and get them into the business world,” Holley said.

James Gerber, a professor of economics at San Diego State University, said border fence construction in the late 1990s created a lot of jobs, but that they were temporary.

The San Diego-based company vScenario created a 3D model of the existing bord...


The San Diego-based company vScenario created a 3D model of the existing border fence to plan the wall.

“It’s like building a pyramid in the desert. Yeah, you get some jobs out of that, but the jobs disappear once the construction is finished,” he said.

Some estimates put the border wall construction cost upwards of $20 billion. Trump has claimed that Mexico will reimburse the U.S. for those expenses, but it remains unclear how that would happen. Mexican leaders, including President Enrique Peña Nieto, have vowed repeatedly that Mexico will never pay for the wall.

Gerber said the economic impact on the U.S. could be negative, in part by pushing Mexico further away as a trade partner.

Mexican industry leaders are already drifting towards partners in South America, Europe and Asia, offended by Trump’s border wall and other policies.

“They have been connected so tightly to the U.S. because of its proximity, but the wall is in effect – you can think of this economically – is pushing the U.S. and Mexico farther apart,” Gerber said.

Mexico’s largest cement manufacturer, Cemex, initially expressed interest in bidding on the border wall. But after a public outcry the company no longer plans to bid.

Earlier this month, three California Assemblymembers announced legislation that would punish the companies that end up building the wall by requiring the state’s pension funds to divest from them.

“The people of California don’t want to invest in the hateful values that the Trump wall represents,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a Democrat who represents south San Diego County.

R.E. Staite Engineering declined to comment on the proposed legislation.

Holley of vScenario sent KPBS the following statement: “Shaming U.S. companies out of participating will likely drive the cost of the wall up and shift profits to foreign companies.”

CBP Inspects Phones


When Buffalo, New York couple Akram Shibly and Kelly McCormick returned to the U.S. from a trip to Toronto on Jan. 1, 2017, U.S. Customs & Border Protection officers held them for two hours, took their cellphones and demanded their passwords.

“It just felt like a gross violation of our rights,” said Shibly, a 23-year-old filmmaker born and raised in New York. But he and McCormick complied, and their phones were searched.

Three days later, they returned from another trip to Canada and were stopped again by CBP.

“One of the officers calls out to me and says, ‘Hey, give me your phone,'” recalled Shibly. “And I said, ‘No, because I already went through this.'”

The officer asked a second time..

Within seconds, he was surrounded: one man held his legs, another squeezed his throat from behind. A third reached into his pocket, pulling out his phone. McCormick watched her boyfriend’s face turn red as the officer’s chokehold tightened.

Then they asked McCormick for her phone.

“I was not about to get tackled,” she said. She handed it over.

Shibly and McCormick’s experience is not unique. In 25 cases examined by NBC News, American citizens said that CBP officers at airports and border crossings demanded that they hand over their phones and their passwords, or unlock them.

The travelers came from across the nation, and were both naturalized citizens and people born and raised on American soil. They traveled by plane and by car at different times through different states. Businessmen, couples, senior citizens, and families with young kids, questioned, searched, and detained for hours when they tried to enter or leave the U.S. None were on terror watchlists. One had a speeding ticket. Some were asked about their religion and their ethnic origins, and had the validity of their U.S. citizenship questioned.

What most of them have in common — 23 of the 25 — is that they are Muslim, like Shibly, whose parents are from Syria.

American citizens Akram Shibly, left, and Kelly McCormick had their phones searched as they reentered the U.S. at Niagara Falls, New York on two separate trips in January 2017. They say Shibly was put in a chokehold when he refused to hand over his phone on the second crossing. Michael Adamucci / for NBC News

Data provided by the Department of Homeland Security shows that searches of cellphones by border agents has exploded, growing fivefold in just one year, from fewer than 5,000 in 2015 to nearly 25,000 in 2016.

According to DHS officials, 2017 will be a blockbuster year. Five-thousand devices were searched in February alone, more than in all of 2015.

“That’s shocking,” said Mary Ellen Callahan, former chief privacy officer at the Department of Homeland Security. She wrote the rules and restrictions on how CBP should conduct electronic searches back in 2009. “That [increase] was clearly a conscious strategy, that’s not happenstance.”

“This really puts at risk both the security and liberty of the American people,” said Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon. “Law abiding Americans are being caught up in this digital dragnet.”

“This is just going to grow and grow and grow,” said Senator Wyden. “There’s tremendous potential for abuse here.”

What Changed?

What CBP agents call “detaining” cellphones didn’t start after Donald Trump’s election. The practice began a decade ago, late in the George W. Bush administration, but was highly focused on specific individuals.

The more aggressive tactics of the past two years, two senior intelligence officials told NBC News, were sparked by a string of domestic incidents in 2015 and 2016 in which the watch list system and the FBI failed to stop American citizens from conducting attacks. The searches also reflect new abilities to extract contact lists, travel patterns and other data from phones very quickly.

DHS has published more than two dozen reports detailing its extensive technological capability to forensically extract data from mobile devices, regardless of password protection on most Apple and Android phones. The reports document its proven ability to access deleted call logs, videos, photos, and emails to name a few, in addition to the Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram apps..

But the officials caution that rhetoric about a Muslim registry and ban during the presidential campaign also seems to have emboldened federal agents to act more forcefully.

“The shackles are off,” said Hugh Handeyside, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project. “We see individual officers and perhaps supervisors as well pushing those limits, exceeding their authority and violating people’s rights.”

And multiple sources told NBC News that law enforcement and the Intelligence Community are exploiting a loophole to collect intelligence.

Under the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement needs at least reasonable suspicion if they want to search people or their possessions within the United States. But not at border crossings, and not at airport terminals.

“The Fourth Amendment, even for U.S. citizens, doesn’t apply at the border,” said Callahan. “That’s under case law that goes back 150 years.”

The ACLU’s Handeyside noted that while the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement doesn’t apply at the border, its “general reasonableness” requirement still does, and is supposed to protect against unreasonable searches and seizures. “That may seem nuanced, but it’s a critical distinction, said Handeyside. “We don’t surrender our constitutional rights at the border.”

Customs and Border officers can search travelers without any level of suspicion. They have the legal authority to go through any object crossing the border within 100 miles, including smartphones and laptops. They have the right to take devices away from travelers for five days without providing justification. In the absence of probable cause, however, they have to give the devices back.

CBP also searches people on behalf of other federal law enforcement agencies, sending its findings back to partners in the DEA, FBI, Treasury and the National Counterterrorism Center, among others.

Callahan thinks that CBP’s spike in searches means it is exploiting the loophole “in order to get information they otherwise might hot have been able to.”

On January 31, an engineer from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was pulled into additional screening upon his return to the U.S. after a two-week vacation in Chile. Despite being cleared by the Global Entry program, Sidd Bikkannavar received an “X” on his customs form. He is not Muslim, and he is not from any of the seven countries named in President Trump’s original “travel ban” executive order. Half his family comes from India but he was born and raised in California.

Bikkannavar was brought into a closed room and told to hand over his phone and passcode. He paid particular notice to the form CBP handed him which explained it had the right to copy the contents of the phone, and that the penalty for refusal was “detention.”

“I didn’t know if that meant detention of the phone or me and I didn’t want to find out,” said Bikkannavar. He tried to refuse but the officer repeatedly demanded the PIN. Eventually he acquiesced.

“Once they had that, they had everything,” Bikkannavar said. That access allowed CBP officers to review the backend of his social media accounts, work emails, call and text history, photos and other apps. He had expected security might physically search any travelers for potential weapons but accessing his digital data felt different. “Your whole digital life is on your phone.”

The officers disappeared with his phone and PIN. They returned 30 minutes later and let him go home.

Sidd Bikkannavar poses for a portrait in 2014. Takashi Akaishi

CBP also regularly searches people leaving the country.

On February 9, Haisam Elsharkawi was stopped by security while trying to board his flight out of Los Angeles International Airport. He said that six Customs officers told him he was randomly selected. They demanded access to his phone and when he refused, Elsharkawi said they handcuffed him, locked him in the airport’s lower level and asked questions including how he became a citizen. Elsharkawi thought he knew his rights and demanded access to legal counsel.

“They said if I need a lawyer, then I must be guilty of something,” said Elsharkawi, and Egyptian-born Muslim and naturalized U.S. citizen. After four hours of questioning in detention, he unlocked his smartphone and, after a search, was eventually released. Elsharkawi said he intends to sue the Department of Homeland Security.

The current policy has not been updated since 2009. Jayson Ahern, who served in CBP under both Bush and Obama, signed off on the current policy. He said the electronic searches are supposed to be based on specific, articulable facts that raise security concerns. They are not meant to be random or routine or applied liberally to border crossers. “That’s reckless and that’s how you would lose the authority, never mind the policy.”

The Customs & Border Patrol policy manual says that electronic devices fall under the same extended search doctrine that allows them to scan bags in the typical security line.

“As the threat landscape changes, so does CBP,” a spokesperson told NBC News.

Since the policy was written in 2009, legal advocates argue, several court cases have set new precedents that could make some CBP electronic searches illegal.

Several former DHS officials pointed to a 2014 Supreme Court ruling in Riley v California that determined law enforcement needed a warrant to search electronic devices when a person is being arrested. The court ruled unanimously, and Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion.

“Modern cellphones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans ‘the privacies of life,'” wrote Roberts. “The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.”

Because that case happened outside of the border context, however, CBP lawyers have repeatedly asserted in court that the ruling does not apply to border searches.

For now a Department of Justice internal bulletin has instructed that, unless border officers have a search warrant, they need to take protective measures to limit intrusions, and make sure their searches do not access travelers’ digital cloud data. The ‘cloud’ is all content not directly stored on a device, which includes anything requiring internet to access, like email and social media.

Former DHS officials who helped design and implement the search policy said they agreed with that guidance.

Wyden Pushes to Change the Policy

On February 20, Sen. Wyden wrote to DHS Secretary John Kelly demanding details on electronic search-practices used on U.S. citizens, and referred to the extent of electronic searches as government “overreach”. As of publication, he had yet to receive an answer.

Now Sen. Wyden says that as early as next week he plans to propose a bill that would require CBP to at least obtain a warrant to search electronics of U.S. citizens, and explicitly prevent officers from demanding passwords.

“The old rules … seem to be on the way to being tossed in the garbage can,” said Senator Wyden. “I think it is time to update the law.”

Akram Shibly at home in Buffalo, Sunday March, 12, 2017. Michael Adamucci / for NBC News

Asked about the Shibly case, a CBP spokesperson declined to comment, but said the Homeland Security Inspector General is investigating. The spokesperson said the agency can’t comment on open investigations or particular travelers, but that it “firmly denies any accusations of racially profiling travelers based on nationality, race, sex, religion, faith, or spiritual beliefs.”

Explaining the sharp increase in electronic searches, a department spokesperson told NBC News: “CBP has adapted and adjusted to align with current threat information, which is based on intelligence.” A spokesman also noted that searches of citizens leaving the U.S. protect against the theft of American industrial and national security secrets.

After repeated communications, the Department of Homeland Security never responded to NBC News’ requests for comments. Nonetheless, the Homeland Security Inspector General is currently auditing CBP’s electronic search practices.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also has filed two dozen complaints against CBP this year for issues profiling Muslim Americans. CAIR and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are considering legal action against the government for what they consider to be unconstitutional searches at the border.

Tunnel Theme Park San Diego

SDUT Since the first large smuggling tunnel was found in the San Diego area in 1993, at least two dozen complete cross-border tunnels have been found along the U.S.-Mexico border from San Diego to Tecate. According to Drug Enforcement Administration officials, since 1990 more than 220 clandestine tunnels have been discovered along the nearly 2,000-mile Southwest border (185 of these crossed into the United States). This is a list of some of the biggest and most elaborate clandestine tunnels in the San Diego region.

1993: Going underground

Tijuana Sewage Stinks

During a span of two weeks, millions of gallons of sewage spilled into the Tijuana River, sending a nasty deluge into the waters off San Diego, closing numerous beaches for health concerns, and permeating a putrid stench.

The spill reportedly ended last week, but the remnants of the estimated 143 million gallons is still oozing into the ocean at Imperial Beach and other south S.D. County spots. And while cross-border sewage displacement is common, this is the largest discharge in two decades, according to San Diego water quality experts.

“This was like a tsunami of sewage spills,” Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina, told the Los Angeles Times. “What’s worse is it looks to me like this was deliberate. It saves [the Mexican agencies] a lot of money in pumping costs, and ultimately, they can get away with it and do it all the time, just on a much smaller scale.”Reports from Mexico say the spill occurred during repair efforts on a pipe at the confluence of the Alamar and Tijuana rivers. But local officials and environmental agencies – including the Surfrider Foundation’s San Diego chapter and Wildcoast – are calling for the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) and California state senators to launch a federal investigation.

As of now, according to Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card, there are closures due to the spill spanning over 10 miles from the U.S./Mexico border to Coronado.

Tijuana River Sewage Flows

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Officials in Southern California are crying foul after more than 140 million gallons of raw sewage spilled into the Tijuana River in Mexico and flowed north of the border for more than two weeks, according to a report.

The spill was caused Feb. 2 during rehabilitation of a sewage collector pipe and wasn’t contained until Thursday, the International Boundary and Water Commission said in its report released Friday. The river drains into the Pacific Ocean on the U.S. side.

Serge Dedina, the mayor of Imperial Beach, California, said residents of his city and other coastal communities just north of the border have complained about a growing stench.

Dedina criticized federal officials in the U.S. and Mexico for not alerting people to the spill.

“Border authorities charged with managing sewage infrastructure and reporting these spills must do better and be held accountable for this act,” Dedina said in a statement Saturday. He called for the resignation of Edward Drusina, chief of the international water commission, over his lack of attention to cross-border sewage flows.

Officials with the commission didn’t immediately return calls from The Associated Press seeking comment Saturday.

The mayor said his office will seek an investigation into the spill and its aftermath, adding that U.S. officials “must make fixing sewage infrastructure a priority and issue of national security.”

San Diego County beaches, which typically would be closed by such a spill, already were off-limits to swimmers and surfers because of runoff as a result of recent storms, Dedina said.

Over the years, several large sewage spills on both sides of the border have worsened conditions in the Tijuana River, one of the most polluted waterways in the country, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper. Old sewage infrastructure in Tijuana and the lack of any plumbing in some residences have been blamed for the problem.

Feb 24 Hwy1 Pothole Report

I’m a monthly San Diego shopper, though I live 2 hours south in Ensenada.  Hunted down some needed household items on Thursday, Feb 24.  Bath and bed upgrades plus new hiking shoes and sharp cheddar cheese were my big thrills.

Here is my February 24 Hwy 1 pothole report, and a few more reasons not to drive at night, unless you like surprises:


Right lane at Tijuana south crossing, just before bridge taking you west to Hwy1/TJ Playas, has a big chunk of concrete missing.  This is approx 100m past the Tijuana secondary inspection station.  This bache(pothole) has been around for a few months.  Good news was that southbound border trafic wait took only approx 10 minutes at 3PM Friday.

Most of TJ-Ens hwy1 is easy going and no drama.  Even the rumble warning bumps in right lane at El Mirador, k84, just before descending into the dangerous Salsipuedes curves have been worn down to the nubs.


The Salsipuedes payment “waves”are still present, although the constant repavement provides a smooth tire path.  The inland lanes have been shut down so traffic is merged to one lane in each direction for a couple of miles.


Noticed new crumbling and big hole under the UABC bridge, just before the Ensenada welcome fountain.  Wow, this one caught me by surprise.  OUCH.


Estancia blvd to Reforma…WOW…last 1/4 mile west was closed due to Carnaval, but the entire stretch east and west from Costero/Playa Hermosa to Hwy1/Reforma is a mess of craters.  fyi, Estancia is landmarked by Ocean’s Restaurant and Mariscos Barbajan on Costero.  It is the inland turn I use most often to get from Costero back to Hwy1, aka Av Reforma.


Special note goes to the family of caves in the pavement at the Pemex on Estancia/Reforma corner.  This fun spot has been a pain for a few years.  They always bandage it, but it comes back to life after big rains.


Costco/Comercial Mex entries are painful due to pavement failure.  Yep, despite the whirlwind day in San Diego, I usually grab my fruit and veggies at Comercial Mex on the way home.  The fourway spot of Costco vs. Comex and the street can be a traffic jam.  Now that the moguls are deep, adventure shopping ensues.

Did score some good avocados at Comex.  My perfect aguacates(avocados) are firm and 3-5 days away from serving squishyness.


Here is an oasis among baches(potholes).  A case of Pacifico ballenas(940ml) is only 276mnp.  That works out to approx 42 cents per 12 ounce beer at Dockerty’s Pub.  I often travel north with an empty case of Pacificos in order to exchange them on my southbound trip home.  I occasionally get a fun “what are the empty bottles for?” at San Ysidro border crossing.

Notice the peso slightly strengthening vs. dollar past week?


Truck Depot intersection of Hwy 1 south of Baja Country Club has a huge hole and have seen accidents at this spot.  Southbound left lane, just past the intersection where the truck is raised up on the platform, is the hole, where an AMC Gremlin could hide.  Yesterday, there was a metal plate covering the spot.


All of Tramo de Muerto, the southbound stretch of Hwy 1 on north side of Maneadero is terrifying.  Wow that area is bad and getting worse each week due to heavy traffic. They have rehabbed and repaved much of the stretch from Baja Country Club north.  But BCC SOUTH?  Ugh.  Of course, part of the thrill is watching traffic weave around the holes at 60mph.

What is your favorite Highway 1 pothole for 2017???

San Ysidro Southbound Inspections

Vehicles traveling southbound towards the Chaparral Border crossingat Friday afternoon rush hour. Commuters say an increase in southbound inspections by U.S. Customs and Border Protection has caused congestion at other times of day as well. (Alejandro Tamayo / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Bajadock: we first reported on southbound inspections at San Ysidro in January 2012.

For many cross-border commuters, northbound waits are part of the routine. But  in recent weeks, growing numbers say they have been facing lengthy southbound waits as well.

Crossers such as Tijuana resident Mara Camacho, whose children attend school in Lemon Grove, complain of maddeningly slow southbound traffic when returning to Mexico — the result of intensified screenings by U.S. Customs and Border Protection of drivers preparing to leave the United States.

“There’s more of a problem getting into Mexico than getting out of Mexico,” said Camacho, a U.S. citizen who works as a realtor in Tijuana.

While the family is able to cross fairly quickly to San Diego in the SENTRI lanes for crossers who have undergone background checks,  they are coming to expect long lines to get back home. On weekday afternoons, “my kids are doing an average of 50 minutes of border wait,” Camacho said.

She is not alone: Complaints about southbound waits have been appearing repeatedly in recent days on Facebook pages where border commuters communicate about the border lines in both directions.

While President Donald Trump has vowed to increase border security, CBP officials say these outbound inspections are not the result of any directive from the new administration. The southbound screenings are just business as usual, said Sally Carrillo, assistant port director at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

“We’re always doing them, it’s part of our routine enforcement,” Carrillo said. “We’re looking for weapons, we’re looking for money that’s going out of the country, we’re not going to stop that.”

Critics of the southbound screenings such as Jason Wells, executive director of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce, question their benefits. ”We think that it’s unnecessary and repetitive. We don’t ask Mexico to pre-inspect  what comes northbound.”

Wells said “the timing was terrible…with the administration change, sentiments are just all over the board, why would you heighten inspection during that time?”

Unlike northbound inspections, which screen every crosser, the southbound inspections are occasional and unannounced. “We call it pulse and surge,” Carrillo said Thursday during a breakfast meeting on Thursday hosted by the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce.

Drivers have remarked that the CBP inspections lead to the closing of three lanes leading toward Mexico, creating a traffic bottleneck, even if officers are not inspecting vehicles. Carrillo said the aim of closing off lanes is “so that people will slow down and afford us the opportunity” to conduct inspections.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has issued a statement that reads: “We do not comment on the number, frequency, or timing of outbound inspections.”

The statement adds that the outbound inspections are conducted “when resources permit,” and that they have “successfully stopped child abduction, interdicted criminals fleeing prosecution, interdicted illegal contraband such as controlled substances, precursor drugs, and arms, and uncovered myriad other violations involving currency reporting requirements, stolen vehicles, trade, and immigration.”


World Class Work Force

(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)LATIMES

Bajadock: This article highlights the reasons why the U.S. factory manual labor jobs are not coming back, no matter what your political tribe is.  

Chris Wade reached into the darkness to silence his blaring alarm clock. It was 4:30 on a frigid winter morning in Warren, Ohio, and outside a fresh layer of snow blanketed the yard.

Thank God, Wade thought to himself. He would be able to get out his plow and make some quick cash.

Money never used to be a problem for Wade, 47, who owned a house with a pool back when he worked at Delphi Automotive, a parts manufacturer that for years was one of the biggest employers in this wooded stretch of northeastern Ohio. But 10 years after taking a buyout as part of Delphi’s ongoing shift of production out of the United States and into Mexico and China, the house and the pool were gone.

Berta Alicia Lopez, 54, is the new face of Delphi. On a recent chilly morning, she woke before sunrise on the outskirts of Juarez, Mexico, and caught an unheated bus that dropped her an hour away at the Delphi plant.

Lopez earns $1 an hour assembling cables and electronics that will eventually be installed into vehicles — the same work that Wade once did for $30 an hour. A farmer’s daughter who grew up in an impoverished stretch of rural Mexico, Lopez is proud to own a used Toyota sedan and a concrete block house.

She frequently thanks God for the work, even if it is in a town troubled by drug violence, even if she doesn’t see many possibilities for earning more or advancing.

The two workers live 1,800 miles and a border apart and have never met. But their stories embody the massive economic shift that has accompanied the rise of free trade.

In the United States, that shift has contributed to the loss of jobs that once helped workers buy homes, pay for health insurance and send children to college. In Mexico, it brought jobs — though they didn’t create the kind of broad, middle-class prosperity they once had in America.

President Trump has pledged to bring factory work back. But it may be too late to turn back the clock on the powerful forces shaping the lives of Wade and Lopez and two cities, one American and one Mexican, that remain inextricably linked by the geography of global economics.

Top: An empty Delphi Automotive plant known as Plant 8 in Warren, Ohio. Bottom left: After a day of work plowing snow, Chris Wade talks on the phone about the rest of the week’s work. Wade worked at Delphi Automotive Systems for 13 and a half years. Bottom right: A binder full of Wade’s business papers and receipts. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

To hear Trump tell it, free trade deals and globalization have produced clear winners and clear losers.

Delphi had been reducing its U.S. workforce for years before it moved most of its operations overseas in 2006.

“Every time I see a Delphi and I see companies leaving, that wall gets a little bit higher, and keeps going up,” Trump promised at a campaign rally in Ohio a few days before the election. “We are going to fight Delphi and other companies and say, ‘Don’t leave us, because there are going to be consequences.’”

He has pledged to tax imports from Mexico and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, which eliminated most tariffs on the continent and, in Trump’s view, enriched Mexico at the expense of middle America.

But the real legacy of NAFTA, which took effect in 1994, is more complicated.

Nobody disputes that the loss of manufacturing has left a bruising mark in parts of the U.S., especially in places like the Rust Belt, where lower paying service industry jobs are increasingly replacing middle class factory positions. But many economists say changes in technology, along with competition with China, are more to blame than NAFTA.

The period of steepest decline in manufacturing jobs, which fell from 17 million to 11 million between 2000 and 2010, is substantially attributable to the free import of goods manufactured more cheaply in China and increasing reliance on machines to do the jobs humans once did, according to Gordon Hanson, an economist and trade expert at UC San Diego.

U.S. jobs with Delphi Automotive once paid $30 an hour, but after a move to Mexico, the same jobs pay $1 an hour. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

South of the border, free trade has indeed helped modernize Mexico by creating millions of jobs since the passage of NAFTA, boosting investment flow and helping to diversify the country’s manufacturing sector. Mexican workers now help build everything from Whirlpool washing machines to Bombardier jets.

But wages have remained low, so that Mexico remains attractive to manufacturers who might otherwise be tempted to locate in China or elsewhere in Asia. Since NAFTA went into effect, there has been no change in the number of Mexicans living below the poverty line — more than half.

Now, as Trump pushes companies to cancel plans for new factories in Mexico and vows to renegotiate trade deals, it appears more dramatic change is on the horizon.

His administration has proposed a 20% tax on imports from Mexico and other countries with which the U.S. has a trade deficit. Economists say the plan poses a serious threat to Mexico, which sends roughly 80% of its exports to the U.S., and whose peso has plummeted amid fears of what the Trump administration may do.

“It’s a new era,” Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, said in a recent speech, warning that if trade deals are opened up, everything — including Mexico’s cooperation with the U.S. on matters of immigration and security — will be up for negotiation.

Lopez is only vaguely aware of Trump — she’s too busy for politics.

Wade said he just wants things to go back to the way they were.

But even he sometimes wonders: “Is it too late?”

After shoveling a client's driveway, Chris Wade shovels the walkway. Wade worked at Delphi Automotive Systems for 13 1/2 years before taking a buyout in 2006 as part of the company's ongoing shift of production out of the U.S.
After shoveling a client’s driveway, Chris Wade shovels the walkway. Wade worked at Delphi Automotive Systems for 13 1/2 years before taking a buyout in 2006 as part of the company’s ongoing shift of production out of the U.S. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

The snow kept falling, so Wade called up some buddies he works with and fired up his plow.

He sipped coffee from a thermos as he wove along a country lane through a landscape that looked like a Thomas Kinkade painting, with cornfields and churches and quaint clapboard houses all cloaked in white.

His first job was to clear the driveway of an industrial park that once belonged to Delphi.

“That’s when times was good,” Wade said in his raspy drawl. “That’s when I liked this place.”

Delphi began as Packard Electric, which started out in Warren in 1890 making light bulbs, but later branched out to auto parts. It became a division of General Motors in 1932, eventually expanding to include factories across the U.S.

The company’s factories in Warren paid middle class wages and helped build a prosperous city, with bustling streets lined with handsome brick buildings.

Both of Wade’s parents worked for Packard, earning enough to take the family on summer vacations and build a swimming pool in the backyard. Growing up, Wade heard stories at the dinner table each night about what had happened that day on the factory floor.

By then, Packard had started reducing its U.S. workforce by moving some of its operations to Mexico to take advantage of lower labor costs in cities such as Juarez, which was inviting foreign companies to build factories there while paying minimal taxes. The threat that more jobs could be shifted overseas forced union representatives in Ohio to make concessions in salaries and benefits.

Still, Wade’s brother and sister-in-law went to work at the Warren factory after high school and Wade figured he’d land there too.

By the time he did — in 1993, after a stint in the Navy that ended with a knee injury — the union workforce in Warren had dropped to less than 9,000, compared with 13,000 a decade earlier.

Still, Wade was happy with his life. He worked nights on the assembly line and cashed his paychecks every Thursday at the bar across the street. On days off, he went duck shooting with his chocolate Labrador, Hunter.

By the early 2000s, after Packard had been renamed Delphi Automotive Systems and spun off as a company independent of GM, Wade had the house and pool. His wife drove a brand new Trailblazer, and he drove a new Chevrolet pickup.

He had no idea what was coming.

 Top left: Berta Lopez, left, talks with a fellow worker on the bus that takes them to and from their jobs at a Delphi factory. Top right: Workers leave the Delphi factory after a shift is over in Juarez, Mexico. Bottom left: A poor neighborhood in Juarez where many factory workers live. Bottom right: Lopez at home. She earns $1 per hour working at the Delphi factory in the city, and says she frequently thanks God for the work, even if it is in a dangerous city. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Lopez grew up in Bermejillo, a dusty town in the state of Durango, where her stepfather spent his days in the sun, irrigating cotton and melon fields. Her mom had pulled her out of school when she was in fifth grade.

“Why study if you’re just going to work and have babies?” her mother told her.

Sure enough, by the time she was 17 she had a son, the first of her five children.

For centuries, people in Bermejillo made their living in the fields, and Lopez had little reason to think she would be any different.

But NAFTA made things hard on small Mexican farmers, who found themselves competing with imports from giant U.S. agribusinesses, many of which received healthy subsidies from the U.S. government. In places like Bermejillo, a generation of young people were suddenly out of work, and many headed north to the U.S.

Others went to frontier towns such as Juarez.

As NAFTA took effect, Juarez was transformed overnight from a desert oasis best known for its nightclubs and casinos into a sprawling grid of concrete industrial buildings intersected by dirt roads. The population grew faster than officials could build highways, schools and other infrastructure.

Migration to cities like Juarez also marked a cultural shift. Parents worked all day, and without extended family to look after them, children often found themselves alone. Drug cartels, whose power was growing, found easy recruits. As the city erupted into gang warfare, murders spiked, along with suicides and violence against women.

Lopez had been working in a cafe for $5 a week when a truck driver passing through town told her about new factory jobs up north. She arrived in Juarez in 1996 with her husband and five children. Her eldest son, then 16, who had not been able to find work in Durango, immediately found a job at a maquiladora, as they call the U.S. factories that had begun to proliferate along the Mexican side of the border.

So did Lopez, at Delphi, where on her first day she was so nervous she offered to clean the bathrooms instead of working on the floor.

“God helped me,” she recalled. “However good or bad, at least we had work.”

She took to factory life — gossiping with the other workers on breaks, earning the equivalent of a GED in classes offered after her shifts, making peace with living in a big city far from home. Then in 2001, her second eldest son committed suicide.

She was so despondent after his death that for the first time she stayed home from work. One of her managers at Delphi traveled to her neighborhood and gently persuaded her to return to the factory floor.

Lopez thought about returning to Durango, but she knew there would be no good jobs there. She resigned herself to the fact that the Delphi factory was probably the best place she’d ever work, and that Juarez was now her home.

“If I didn’t have the job, I wouldn’t eat,” she said.

The sun sets over Juarez, Mexico, where many maquiladoras are located.
The sun sets over Juarez, Mexico, where many maquiladoras are located. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Delphi had its own listing on the New York Stock Exchange, but its fortunes still rode on General Motors, its biggest customer. When the car company slumped in 2004, the transnational auto parts maker went into a tailspin.

The next year — amid an accounting fraud scandal in which the SEC fined several top executives — Delphi filed for bankruptcy.

Its board hired a new chief executive, Robert Miller, who complained that the company’s U.S. workers were overpaid, with labor costs triple that of other unionized auto suppliers.

In March 2006, Delphi announced it was closing or selling 21 of its 29 American plants, a move that eliminated more than 20,000 jobs, or about two-thirds of its total workforce. Operations were shipped to factories in China or Mexico, where Delphi now has about 70,000 employees working at factories in 20 cities.

Most of the plants in Warren remained open, but with a much smaller workforce. While Miller got a sendoff package that by one account was worth $35 million, workers were urged to take a buyout and warned that if they stayed, their wages would drop from an average of $29 an hour to $16.50.

On the day he walked away from Delphi with a buyout package worth $140,000, Wade was, as he put it, “fired up.” “The CEOs and the guys at the top make millions while everybody else can barely survive,” he said. “It’s not right.”

In Trumbull County, the former manufacturing and steel stronghold where Warren is located, the Delphi cuts felt like kicking a guy who was already down.

Wade’s post-Delphi years were not easy. Shortly after leaving the factory, he went through a divorce and narrowly avoided prison after being pulled over while drunk and with unlicensed guns in his car.

He had received his truck driver’s license, but the DUI eliminated that career plan. He earned a certification to sell insurance, but that didn’t pan out either.

He works in roofing now during the summer and plows snow in the winter. After a decade, he’s making about what he was when he worked at Delphi. But he doesn’t have the security of a pension, paid vacation or health insurance. If he had kept his job at Delphi, he would be just seven years from retirement.

Wade doesn’t want to hear about the Mexican workers who replaced him. He boils when he hears what low wages they get paid, and is equally angry about immigrants who work illegally in the U.S.

He liked that Trump called out Mexico on the issue. It was the kind of talk that helped persuade Wade, a lifelong Democrat and union member, to give Trump his vote. He was joined by many others in Trumbull County, which voted Republican for president for the first time since 1972.

Brian Lutz, shop steward with the union that once represented Wade, said he understands the anti-establishment anger.

“I hear all the time people who say why would I continue to vote for a Democrat when all the people I worked with are gone and the Democrats haven’t done what we sent them to do?” he said.

His union recently negotiated a contract that starts workers at $13 an hour. That’s about 10 times as much as Lopez takes home from the Delphi plant in Juarez today, two decades into her career there.

Left: Lopez’s home sits in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Juarez. Right: Lopez cleans her home on her day off. For the last couple of years, every spare peso has gone to pay the college tuition for her youngest son. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

At the end of the shift in Juarez one recent afternoon, hundreds of workers streamed out of the Delphi factory toward the long line of white buses that take them home. Lopez climbed onto No. 6621, which headed east along the U.S. border, past dozens of other factories and a slew of big box stores.

It dropped Lopez in New Lands, a grid-like housing development that rises from the sand on the outskirts of the city. Overweight and suffering from diabetes, she shuffled past the Toyota in her driveway.

Trump’s warnings to companies to keep their business in America are already having an effect on the Mexican economy. Last month, after being criticized by Trump on Twitter, Ford announced it is canceling plans to build a new $1.6-billion factory in Mexico, opting instead to hire workers in Michigan.

Trump claimed credit, though the company said market demand was a bigger factor. The Mexico factory was designed to build small cars, but as gas prices have fallen, demand has shifted toward bigger models made in Michigan.

But some companies that produce goods in Mexico say there’s no going back to the U.S. That includes Delphi.

The company just announced a plan for more layoffs in Warren, where only 1,500 employees remain.

Speaking at Barclay’s Global Automotive Conference in New York in December, Delphi’s chief financial officer Joe Massaro explained what he thought would happen to Delphi under several Trump trade scenarios.

If Trump were to close the border with Mexico outright, “in less than a week, all the people who voted for him in Michigan and Ohio would be out of work,” Massaro argued, underscoring the fact that many factories in the U.S., including car makers in Detroit, depend on parts made in Mexico.

If the United States were to withdraw from NAFTA and start taxing imports from Mexico again, Delphi would continue doing business in Mexico, he said. The company would pass on the extra cost to its suppliers or to consumers, or would find a way to reduce its production costs — which could mean layoffs or salary cuts in Mexico.

What it all means for Lopez and her family, she is not sure.

Of her four children, three work in factories.

For the last couple of years, every spare peso has gone to pay the college tuition for her youngest son, Sergio, who is studying computer engineering. He dreams of starting a software company that can compete with U.S. firms.

He has watched his mom’s life, and wants to earn more than factory wages.

“It’s a lot of work for little money,” he said.

This story was reported in part with a grant from the International Women’s Media Foundation.

Super Sunday Boycott USA


Thousands of Mexicans who regularly cross into the United States to buy longer used the weekend the two border crossings in Tijuana after a boycott was promoted from social networks.

Although no official figures of motorists and pedestrians who crossed the border on Sunday through the San Ysidro and Otay were provided, it was notably absent from thousands of them.

Both watchtowers allow international crossing from Tijuana, the most populous city of Baja California.

Particularly the vacuum warned during the seven hours that were determined for the boycott, which social networking was promoted with the tag # UnasHorasporMéxico.

Added to that, he held a march against increases in gasoline prices and the privatization of water in Tijuana who arrived to the crossing of San Ysidro, so that US authorities closed a few hours step.

Thus, the San Ysidro border was largely deserted on Sunday, while the Otay no more than 30 vehicles were registered queuing to cross the neighboring country.

The president of the Chamber of Commerce of Tijuana, Gilberto Leyva Camacho, told EFE that are not yet aware of the magnitude of the impact of the boycott in stores in Southern California.

He added that what did show Tijuanenses is that “when it comes to being united, the public responds,” and said it is important to demonstrate to the US market “that we are not their enemies but allies, and we both need them us as we need them. ”

He also stressed that there is a trade of many millions of dollars from side to side of the border.

According to official information, in the San Ysidro border crossing it is estimated that more than 30 million vehicles cross annually, and about 20 thousand people walk every day.

Camacho Leyva hoped the boycott “will serve as a lesson” to some Americans “who treat us as second”.

He asked that both countries are “in the same circumstances” and warned that if the US government continues to threaten Donald Trump with “obstructing or attacking us, we will go for more.”

In this regard, he said that there are proposals not buy American origin malls like Walmart or not eating the famous cola “Made in USA”.

Mexico and the United States are in a tense moment in bilateral relations by the aggressive tone with the Latin American nation’s new president, Donald Trump, which aims to toughen immigration control, build a wall along the border to pay the Mexicans and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.


Feb 5 Mexico Shopping Boycott

Bajadock:  responding to a few emails on how this protest is going to progress…”Tijuana/Rosarito/Ensenada Mexicans shop in San Diego as if it were Disneyland’s Magic Kingdom”.    Any short term anti-USA shopping will be short lived.  Pocketbooks beat political acts.  

The choices, variety, quality and value of goods are hard to beat in the USA.  Want another comparison?  Compare Tijuana vs San Diego craigslist for ANY item.

Movement “a few hours in Mexico” calls for Tijuana society to not cross the United States on February 5, in order to send a message to the administration of Trump on the “peso” which has the Mexican community in the economy of the border region.

The initiative spread through social networks called “give a moment to Mexico” and invites the community to not consume any product or go to work in the neighboring country between 8:00 and 15:00 hours on the first Sunday February as a protest against the recent measures of President Donald Trump and as a sign that Mexicans “have dignity.”

The Non Governmental Organization native of Tijuana, headed by a law graduate, Carlos Barboza Castillo, authors of the initiative # UnasHorasPorMéxico, recalled that the Calibaja area, although made up of cities from different countries and divided by a wall, is seen by residents as a region.

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