By Julio-Cesar Chavez
EL PASO, Texas (Reuters) – Workers and students who frequently cross the U.S. border with Mexico worried over the weekend about the impact on their lives if President Donald Trump follows through on a threat to shut entry points used by hundreds of thousands of people every day.
Faced with a surge of asylum seekers from Central American countries who travel through Mexico, Trump said on Friday that there was a “good likelihood” he would close the border this coming week if Mexico does not stop unauthorised immigrants from reaching the United States.
Shutting the southern frontier completely would disrupt billions of dollars in trade and millions of legal border crossings, including those made by U.S. citizen Andrea Torres.
The 22-year-old student spends weekdays with her aunt in El Paso, where she attends the local campus of the University of Texas, and weekends with her mother in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
On the border bridge linking the two cities, so many students cross every day that authorities have assigned them their own pedestrian lane.
“Right now, it’s better for me to stay in El Paso because I need to finish school,” Torres, who is studying art history, said on Friday as she headed to Juarez for the weekend.
That would mean missing her mom. “It would be really hard,” Torres said. “I’m really close to her.”
Gerardo Pozas, a 38-year-old mechanic, moved to El Paso from Juarez in 1997 to attend high school and later became a U.S. citizen. He has always retained strong ties with his birthplace. He worried what he would do if Trump closed the border.
“My family, my church and my girlfriend are (in Juarez). I wouldn’t be able to go,” Pozas said. “But if I stay there, in Ciudad Juarez, I wouldn’t be able to come to my house.”
Department of Homeland Security officials had already warned traffic with Mexico could slow as the agency shifts personnel from ports of entry to help process asylum seekers.
Delays were already being felt on Friday, with waiting times longer than usual on the Mexican side of the crossing between Juarez and El Paso, and hours-long lines for trucks carrying goods from Mexican factories into the United States.
Trade between the United States and its third-largest trading partner totalled $612 billion last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Trump, who launched his presidential campaign in 2015 with a promise to crack down on illegal immigration, has repeatedly threatened to close the border during his two years in office but has not followed through.
Mexico has played down the possibility of a border shutdown. On Friday its foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, said the country does not act on the basis of threats.
(Additional reporting by Jose Luis Gonzalez in Ciudad Juarez and Julia Love in Mexico City; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Daniel Wallis and James Dalgleish)