Commuter students cross the U.S.-Mexico border


Kelly Smiley, Photo Editor

by Will Fritz, Senior Staff Writer

Just 16 miles south of San Diego State’s main campus is one of the busiest border crossings in the world.

The San Ysidro Land Port of Entry records an average of 50,000 vehicles entering the United States everyday, on top of 25,000 northbound pedestrian crossings each day, according to U.S. General Services Administration statistics.

These numbers are on the upswing, too.

In 2014, a total of over 12 million vehicular crossings were recorded at San Ysidro, according to SANDAG. In 2015, the most recent year for which records are available, the number was over 14 million, although this number is not as high as 2004’s peak value of 17.7 million vehicular crossings.

Of these, many regular commuters are crossing the border, and some are SDSU students.

Business marketing freshman Ana Murabas braves the long lines daily on her commute from her family’s home in Tijuana to school.

“I have to wake up at 5 a.m.,” she said. “You never know how long waiting in line is going to be.”

Murabas is enrolled in the Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspectionprogram, which speeds up processing for pre-approved, low risk travelers, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.

SENTRI applicants must undergo an exhaustive background check, a 10-fingerprint law enforcement check, as well as a personal interview with a CBP officer, before approval.

Even with a SENTRI pass, Murabas said she averages about 30 minutes spent sitting in line.

She said it can take her up to an hour and a half to get to school in the morning, and another 40 minutes for her return trip at night.

Murabas is not the only SDSU student whose daily commute takes her across the international border.

There are in fact many more students like her, although it is difficult to know exactly how many, said Chicana and Chicano Studies professor Norma Iglesias-Prieto.

“But I know that it’s a significant number, especially for the universities or colleges near to the border,” she said.

“They are a very important community for our university.”

Psychology freshman Pauline Mainou is another trans-border commuter. Like Murabas, she also has a SENTRI pass, but still has to leave her house very early in the morning to make it to class by 8:30 a.a.

“I leave a lot earlier just in case there’s more traffic because sometimes the line could be an hour,” she said. “And then going from the line to SDSU would be more, so I just have a very big time buffer.”

Mainou, an international student, said if given the choice, she would prefer to live closer to school in the U.S.

“Sometimes you get checked up, or sometimes there’s more lines, or sometimes they close a lot of lines, so there’s only two lines, so it’s very long,” she said. “You have to take into account that many things that happen, (and) you can’t do anything about it.”

And with the election of President Donald Trump, who repeatedly said on the campaign trail he was going to force Mexico to pay for a border wall, crossing over to the United States could be even trickier.

“Depending on the U.S.-Mexican relations, the border crossing is a kind of a laboratory of the tensions between Mexico and the United States,” Iglesias-Prieto said. “So as a border crosser, you never know how long (the lines are) going to be.”

Mainou said so far, she has noticed the lines are actually longer going back into Mexico.

Iglesias-Prieto said in her own estimation, anywhere from one-fourth to one-third of her students are what she calls trans-border commuters, students who commute from Tijuana to class at SDSU. However, Iglesias-Prieto said this is almost certainly not representative of the campus population, as she teaches classes about the U.S.-Mexican border.

A representative of the SDSU registrar’s office said the university does not keep records of trans-border students.

Even if they did, Iglesias-Prieto said some of them may officially reside in San Diego to avoid paying international student fees while actually living in Tijuana with family because of the cheaper cost of living.

She said this can make commuting across the border risky for some students.

“For example, some of the cross border students cross using their green cards,” she said. “With the residence card, you’re supposed to reside in San Diego to keep the residence card. So that’s problematic, because they are putting at risk their document.”

However, some may not have a choice. Many students choose to live in Tijuana because they cannot afford to live in San Diego, Iglesias-Prieto said.

Iglesias-Prieto said for a number of students, it is not a fixed condition.

“Sometimes they really live here with family,” she said. “And then, with an economic crisis they go back to Tijuana and they, being trans-border student for two years, then they go back to San Diego. So there’s a lot of fluidity in terms of residence in our community.”

Biology sophomore Daniela Ayala commuted daily from Tijuana her freshman year but lives in the U.S. full-time this year.

Many of her classes last year started at 8 a.m., making the commute especially time-consuming, she said.

Ayala, who also has a SENTRI pass, said she often left her house at 5 a.m. to make it to school on time.

“I was almost late every day,” she said. “The days I had classes at 8 a.m., sometimes I would be falling asleep in class.”

Ayala said she also had to factor in time to plan out her meals since certain items can not be brought across the border.

“You can’t cross vegetables, even if they’re cooked ” she said. “I would have to make time to prepare food really early in the morning.”

Ayala said while she wouldn’t mind commuting from Tijuana if her classes were later in the day, trying to make it to 8 a.m. lectures from across the international border was too much.

“In a way it’s fun because you get to be in one country one moment and then be in another a hour later, but other than that I think it’s tough,” she said.

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