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Port Closure: How Border Shutdowns Impact Local Economies

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Clear Facts

  • The United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced an indefinite temporary closure of the Lukeville Port of Entry, significantly affecting local businesses and communities.
  • Shutdowns like this are due to increased levels of migrant encounters at the border, which the CBP claim are fueled by smugglers spreading false information to vulnerable individuals.
  • Both American and Mexican communities, reliant on cross-border travel, have felt the financial impact of the shutdown, raising concerns about the future stability of the port.

The unforeseen closure of the Lukeville Port of Entry in Arizona by the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) left locals and small businesses in shock. The shutdown, announced on December 1, 2023, was intended to be temporary, but with no firm date for reopening, communities were left in a state of uncertainty.

Why, a small, unincorporated community barely 30 miles away from the port, felt the impact acutely. Nestled on the route to Mexico from several major cities, Why acts as a pitstop for many travelers. Local businesses, such as the Why Not Travel Store, a popular convenience store, saw a significant drop in customers.

Shop manager Bernadette Nez said, “Everything was very slow,” adding, “We didn’t get any travelers heading down to Mexico. We only had a few locals, and Why is very small.” Nez noted that the impacts of the shutdown reduced daily customers to a mere 15, an unprecedented low in her 40-year residence in the area.

“We barely even had enough to make our light bill. It was like a ghost town,” Nez disclosed. She credits the store’s survival to the tight-knit community of Why, including Border Patrol agents residing in the area who increased their shopping frequency at the store during the closure.

Meanwhile, Mexico also felt the sting of the shutdown. David Grosse, an Arizona resident owning rental properties in Puerto Peñasco, reported a 90% cancellation rate among his renters due to the port closure. He underscored that the majority of tourists heading to the vacation destination prefer to drive through the Lukeville border for its convenience and familiarity. The abrupt closure left these tourists in a state of flux, with no clear indication of when the port might reopen.

“Every property in the area got impacted,” Grosse stated. He further expressed that some potential renters still harbor doubts about booking their travel accommodations due to the uncertainty of the port’s status.

The CBP justified the Lukeville border shutdown as a necessary move to “redirect personnel to assist the U. S. Border Patrol with taking migrants into custody.” The agency blamed the increased levels of migrant encounters on “smugglers peddling disinformation to prey on vulnerable individuals.” The Tucson sector, which includes the Lukeville Port of Entry, is one of the busiest areas for illegal migrant crossings.

Pima County Sheriff Chris Naños asserted that border issues are CBP’s responsibility and should not burden county or state law enforcement agencies. Regarding the migrant street releases, Naños stated it’s more of a concern for “the city of Tucson and the Board of Supervisors of Pima County.”

“Whether that court date’s tomorrow or 10 years from tomorrow, is another issue. But that’s not for the sheriff to deal with,” Naños added. He stressed that the handling of asylum seekers and the scheduling of their court dates is entirely out of Border Patrol’s control.

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Despite the influx of migrants, Nez stated that she hasn’t seen any wandering the streets of Why or neighboring areas. She rather noticed an increase in Border Patrol presence. However, the state’s rural communities paint a different picture, with law enforcement personnel and local farmers reporting increased crime rates due to the influx of migrants.

State Sen. David Gowan (R) stated that law enforcement officers have “reached their break point,” adding that locals are facing “drug trafficking, human smuggling, high-speed chases, rapes, murders, and other atrocities from criminals either coming across our border from Mexico, or U. S. citizens who are trying to make money by participating in these crimes.”

The Lukeville Port of Entry eventually reopened a month later, but concerns remain regarding the potential for future shutdowns. Nez expressed her fear of another border closure, stating, “It really caused a lot of trouble within our personal lives and our work lives.”

Lora Ries, director at a security and immigration research center, suggested that “If communities want a functioning border, they should direct their ire at the government administration and demand that it stop the illegal flow of people.”

With the fate of the border in the hands of government entities and policy decisions, communities and businesses like those in Why and Puerto Peñasco are left to adapt and endure, living in hope that the border remains open and their livelihoods remain intact.

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