Bill Jordan is one of the hundreds of thousands of people who drive across the border to Mexico every day. But the looming U.S. Department of Homeland Security shutdown has Jordan, who oversees operations of the Mexican facility headed by Phoenix-based Allied Tool & Die, bracing for a more complicated life, with longer lines at border crossings and the slower processing of imports and exports. Homeland Security will run out of funding Sunday unless Congress comes to an agreement this week, meaning fewer border security agents will be on duty and those who are will not be getting paid.
“It will probably be a hassle. Everyone’s human, and if you’re not going to get paid, you’ll work slower,” Jordan said. “My business will feel the pain, but the personal pain for officers and people who work there [on the border], it’s going to be enormous.”
The Homeland Security shutdown is expected to hurt border cities and towns across the U.S. and those whose lives center around easy access to and from Mexico. It means everything and everyone, from the thousands of produce trucks that cross over the border to Mexican students who go to U.S. schools, may face longer waits at the crossings. Ordinary Mexicans who cross over the border to shop in U.S. stores may also think twice about spending their money here if lines swell.
President Barack Obama warned of the shutdown’s economic impact in broad terms as he urged congressional leaders this week to come together and pass funding for DHS. The legislature is in gridlock because conservative Republicans only want to fund the agency if Obama’s controversial executive actions on immigration are reversed. Senate Democrats have not budged from their stance to block the move. A shutdown "will have a direct impact on your economy, and it will have a direct impact on America's national security, because their hard work helps to keep us safe," the president said on Monday.
If Congress fails to come to an agreement to fund the Department of Homeland Security by midnight Sunday, a majority of border security agents will remain on the job, but they won’t receive paychecks. That means less money will be circulating in border towns in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. And about 6,000 fewer border patrol employees will be on duty in these areas, which could result in further delays to the already slow processing of the more than 1 million pedestrians and passengers and hundreds of thousands of vehicles that cross the southern border each day, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics.
Jordan drives a majority of his work days from Phoenix, Arizona, to Mexicali, Mexico, where he manages the Mexico operations of his small aerospace manufacturing company. His main concern is the import-export side of his company’s business that involves shipping raw materials to Mexico and the finished product back to the U.S. To prepare for the shutdown, Allied Tool & Die is shipping three to four months’ worth of raw materials to Mexico this week.
Steve Ahlenius, president and CEO of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, which represents the Texas border city, said he’s concerned that no paychecks for DHS employees means there will be less money infused into the local economy. The city also heavily relies on Mexicans shopping in its stores. About 32 percent of total retail sales in McAllen, or about roughly $1.2 billion, comes from Mexico.
“It’s going to have an impact. I feel for the employees, because, once again, we have elected officials playing games and playing with peoples’ lives and livelihood,” he said. “The bigger concern is mortgage payments, getting food on the table, buying gasoline and then what they spend as far as retail.”
Agriculture is one of the many industries concerned over the impact a Homeland Security shutdown will have on the economy. The Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales, Arizona, is the state’s largest border commercial port. Roughly $3 billion in produce passes through Nogales each year, or about 5 billion pounds, according to Allison Moore, director of legislative and regulatory affairs for the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas. Mexican farmers are in the midst of their busy season, when about 1,500 trucks a day head into Nogales. While there may be a holdup in getting their trucks into America, the larger problem with the shutdown is that it puts a freeze on training border patrol agents, Moore said.
“We’ll continue to see trucks crossing. We might have some delays in paperwork processing, but the big overall picture is that it continues to delay some crucial hiring that DHS should be doing that it’s just not doing as quickly as it should,” she said, noting it takes about a year to train an officer for duty at a port of entry.
Robert Medler, spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, said farmers risk having their crops spoil on trucks if there’s a slowdown due to a decrease in border agents in the field. “It’s already a bottleneck. What does that do going down the line to our ability in the state to harvest that crop and ship it out to the rest of the United States?” he said. “It’s just a waterfall effect.”
Commute times at the border may also be lengthier for those who live in Mexico and work in the United States and vice versa. Thousands of residents in Tijuana, Mexico, enter the U.S. to work in San Diego, California. The same goes for Mexican students who attend high school in San Ysidro, California, or college at the University of Texas, El Paso. If lines become lengthy, some workers and students may temporarily give up on going to work or school, although officials don’t think the shutdown will be that extreme.
The Texas university said about 450 students commute from Mexico to its campus. “We cannot predict how a DHS shutdown would affect these students, but we very carefully monitor the decisions made by our national leaders and will continue to support our students as circumstances unfold,” said Gary Edens, UTEP’s vice president of student affairs.