We’re all in This Together: Recovery for Tijuana is Recovery for San Diego

The novel coronavirus has starkly exposed the pronounced inequities in health access, food access, and economic opportunity across our nation. But we do not need national numbers to validate this: we are seeing it real-time in our backyard. Disproportionately, we see positive cases in the South Bay South Bay and stark contrasts in fatality rates between Tijuana and San Diego/Imperial Counties.

With our communities and economies intrinsically linked, a recovery for San Diego, that ignores Baja California some are arguing, is too narrow a view. As plans to reopen the region’s economy motivate us to look towards recovery, we are taking a closer look at how our governments are working together to address the crisis, what further assistance is needed, and specific ways philanthropy can help.

Defining the Mega Region

The CaliBaja mega region encompasses the entire California – Mexico border region including San Diego County, Imperial County, and Baja California in Mexico.  More than 7 million people call CaliBaja home. Our dual economies are interconnected, with a combined GDP of $255 billion. Our region, its people, and our markets are fluid and interdependent.

The San Ysidro Port of Entry alone experiences more than 70,000 vehicles and 25,000 pedestrian crossings into the United States daily, and more than 100,000 people cross the San Diego-Tijuana border daily to work. In addition, there are thousands of Central American and other asylum seekers who, under the U.S. “Remain in Mexico” policy are awaiting their U.S. court hearings in Baja California cities.

The Challenges

Despite measures for social distancing, Tijuana has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases. Many of which are legal U.S. citizens, those with dual citizenship, or those otherwise permitted to work and cross the U.S. border. Issues that experts are seeing exacerbate the situation include:

Crumbling Infrastructure and Supply Shortages | Justine Kozo, chief of the county’s Office of Border Health spoke with the Voice of San Diego (VOSD) earlier this month on the severity of challenges Tijuana is facing. “Tijuana is experiencing immense challenges, including shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators, tests, health care personnel and a lack of hospital beds and staff to care for sick patients. Their hospitals are at or near capacity,” she told VOSD.

Foreign-Owned Factories Remaining Open | In addition to lack of hospital infrastructure and medical equipment, as The Guardian reported, “Mexico’s border states are home to more than 6,000 maquiladoras – largely foreign-owned factories that manufacture products for export – and the plants, which employ hundreds of thousands of people, have been the focus of several coronavirus outbreaks.” Inadequate safety measures and pressure from owners to remain open have made these prime areas of spread.

Baja California has more maquiladoras than any other state in Mexico, and currently has the second highest mortality rate from COVID-19.

Stoking Fear-Based Rhetoric | Our region enjoys the benefits of our binational community, with San Diego County employing thousands of people who call Tijuana home, but we are no stranger to the “us” vs. “them” rhetoric at the border. As San Diego’s South Bay health systems see an influx in positive COVID-19 patients, there is growing concern that stories told about the pressures on those systems may further increase fear-based border rhetoric in the U.S. Balancing the very present need to limit the spread of COVID-19 while maintaining active support for Tijuana, our economic partner and the place many U.S. citizens and contributors to the San Diego workforce call home, is critical.

As Scripps Health CEO Chris Van Gorder told ABC News “This is not an immigration problem at all, to us. We think it’s American citizens that are coming up, or dual citizens, or those that are authorized to enter the United States because they work in San Diego.”  It turns out, the “them” is us.

What Government is Doing

Last month, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Tijuana Mayor Arturo González Cruz announced the creation of The San Diego Region Border Unified Command, a binational task force designed to track and respond to any impacts brought on by U.S. citizens crossing into the U.S. from Mexico to seek treatment for COVID-19 and other illnesses.

In addition to that, Mayor Faulconer recently announced the establishment of a binational regional group that will monitor potential impacts of COVID-19 and cross-border travel on San Diego health care and emergency systems.

“San Diego and Tijuana’s longstanding binational relationship has (been) and continues to be a strength even amid one of the largest pandemics we’ve faced in a century,” Faulconer said in a statement.

The City of San Diego has donated 1,000 3-D printed face shields and five ventilators for Tijuana hospitals. In addition, the Mayor of Tijuana has donated $100,000 to purchase medical supplies for medical professionals in Tijuana and Baja California’s Secretary of Health has issued a “Manual for Creating COVID-19-Free Work Spaces” with clear protocols for businesses to implement in order to protect their workforce while ensuring continuity of operations.

As we’ve been hearing across all issue areas: In times of crisis, collaboration and putting trusted relationships into action is a source of power and resiliency.

“The CaliBaja region has once more demonstrated that despite the many challenges imposed by such an unprecedented health crisis, any goal worth pursuing is better served through bilateral collaboration. I’m happy to report that despite the necessary measures affecting regular border flows, we have been able to maintain regular communication with local stakeholders and authorities on both sides of the border in order to preserve as much as possible the cross-border nature of our daily interactions,” Ambassador González Gutiérrez, Mexico Consul General in San Diego, told us.

How Philanthropy Can Help

Fronteras Unidas Pro Salud, A.C. (Pro Salud)  works to promote equality in the communities of Baja California centered on the integral health, social development and well-being of people through the free and informed exercise of their rights, particularly sexual and reproductive. They have been working tirelessly on the ground to address the evolving crisis in Tijuana, and say without San Diego based philanthropic response, their work could not happen.

“Due to the limitations of the Baja California government to provide sufficient high-quality health care to meet the need, the services provided by nonprofit organizations in Tijuana to fill this gap are crucial,” Marcela Merino, director general for Pro Salud told us. “Pro Salud helps to satisfy this need but would not be able to do so without the significant financial support it receives from San Diego foundations and individual donors,” she said.

Locally, funders are working rapidly to address current and emerging needs at the border.

In order to address the shortage of medical supplies in Tijuana, SDG member Border Philanthropy Partnership joined forces with the Mexican Consulate and The American Red Cross to send four truckloads of medical supplies to Tijuana.

SDG member the International Community Foundation has leveraged two of their funds – the Border Health Fund and the Border Fund – to support outreach activities in Mexico. All donations to these funds made through June 15 will go to directly support immediate needs such as emergency food relief, medical supplies and services, and protective/hygiene supplies; resources to transition critical programs to digital/online formats including mental health, education or legal services; and support for local nonprofits facing lost revenue or unexpected operational costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

International Community Foundation has identified the most pressing on the ground needs to currently be:

  • Cleaning/protective/hygiene supplies
  • Printing and translation of public health materials
  • Food
  • Technological supplies/infrastructure (internet, laptops, staff) to transition programs online such as legal services and educational programs
  • Mobile clinic/preventative health efforts

As they work to address the crisis, beyond donating to the funds they have outlined three direct opportunities to help support their efforts:

  1. Connect San Diego donors interested in supporting the BajaCali region to ICF
  2. Work with ICF on the development of strategies/mechanisms for providing funds to individuals in Mexico who can’t afford to pay rent/utilities because of lost income
  3. Share with ICF existing educational or psycho-social resources in Spanish, indigenous, Haitian creole, French (or other languages) that are online and can be shared with their grantees.

What to Dig Deeper with the Experts?

As the situation evolves, the San Diego Grantmakers Binational Migration Funders Collaborative are meeting regularly to discuss needs and form collective solutions. They are hosting a briefing call this Thursday, May 28, 2020 from 3-4pm for any funders interested in learning more from those with deep expertise in the region. Speakers include:

  • Amb. Carlos González Gutiérrez, Consul General of Mexico in San Diego
  • Paola Avila, vice president, International Business Affairs, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce
  • Marcela Merino, executive director & Dr. Esther Oviedo, program coordinator at Fronteras Unidas Pro Salud
  • Paulina Olvera Cáñez, president & founder, Espacio Migrante
  • Eliza Brennan, program officer, Education, Arts & Culture, International Community Foundation

Learn more and register here.

The CaliBaja region is all of us. And we are all in this together.