Rahil Iqbal sugarcoats nothing: “Business is finished.” The 64-year-old of Pakistani origin says sales have plummeted at his California clothing stores in San Diego’s San Ysidro district, which borders Tijuana, Mexico. He blames U.S. President Donald Trump’s fierce rhetoric against immigrants, especially Mexicans.
Business has plunged some 70 percent, he estimates, while the local Chamber of Commerce calculates that area shops have seen sales drop by 35 to 45 percent since Trump entered the White House. “The feeling is palpable,” said Jason Wells, the chamber’s president. “It’s the uncertainty that affects us,” he said, explaining that Mexicans who used to cross the border to shop now fear to make the journey.
Jorge Trujillo, who has seen sales at his cell phone store drop 30 percent, said a government order for border agents to check the social-network contacts of foreigners entering the country has fanned fears. If Mexicans buy a phone number stateside without being residents, they worry that customs agents will think they live in the U.S. and take their tourist papers, the shopowner said.
Trump’s aggressive rhetoric—including his threats to build a massive border wall and deport millions of undocumented immigrants—has stirred both anger and newfound pride among residents of the border region.
The president has moved to eliminate the DACA program, which allowed undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children to work—an Obama-era measure that benefited more than half a million Mexicans. “He has promoted a sense of Mexicanness, particularly on the border,” said Mario Carignan, president of Tijuana’s Chamber of Commerce, who said members there report sales increases of up to 10 percent.
It happened to Soraya Vasquez: “I prefer to consume in Tijuana; it’s a matter of dignity,” she told AFP. “I’ve stopped crossing to the United States,” she said. “There is something holding me back from crossing.”
The San Ysidro entry point is the busiest land border crossing in the world, traversed daily by thousands of people. Two metal fences divide the sector, and in nearby Otay Mesa sit eight prototypes for the border wall Trump has vowed to build.
With discontent growing over the new U.S. president, Tijuana’s chamber in January launched an “I buy in Tijuana” campaign to promote local consumption and seek to reverse the habits of Mexican consumers who in the past spent an estimated $6 billion annually in the United States. One of the most successful stores taking part in the campaign is “Tijuana I Love 664,” a reference to the city’s area code.
“People come to buy clothes that say ‘Tijuana’ in large print,” said Carlos Zuniga, the brand’s marketing director. Many clients—both Americans and Mexicans—aim to send Trump a message. “They tell us they’re going to stand in one of Trump’s buildings and take a photograph,” he said, explaining it is a way to convey, “‘Look, we’re Mexicans, and we came to visit you.’”
Not everyone has given up crossing the border, however; some still prefer shopping in the U.S. for what they consider a better cost-to-quality ratio.
John Walker, who manages a large shopping center near a border crossing, said he has not felt the Trump effect as others have, which he owes to labels. It’s “brand, brand, brand,” he said. “The folks that come from Mexico are looking for those names.”
One merchant, who identified herself only as Carmen, crosses once a week to stock up on merchandise at a U.S. warehouse. “People on the border are used to buying American products,” the 56-year-old said as she stuffed a black garbage bag with sports socks and women’s underwear. “I have been coming for more than 25 years. The Mexican product is not the same; to get quality it’s very expensive.”
But what about Trump? “That’s politics,” she said. “I work to survive.”