Mayors of San Diego and Tijuana sign symbolic pact

Photo courtesy of Juan Manuel Gastélum/Twitter

The mayors of San Diego and Tijuana came together on Monday, March 13 to symbolically renew their mutual desires for cross-border cooperation between the two cities.  This friendly press conference occurred amidst the uncertainties which have characterized relations between the two nations as of late.  On the steps of Tijuana’s historic Casa De La Cultura overlooking the border, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastélum signed a memorandum of understanding outlining plans for the two administrations to cooperate on everything from economic development to cultural education going forward, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

This ceremony stands as a renewal of the similar pact which Faulconer signed along with former Tijuana Mayor Jorge Astiazaran in 2014. Since then, Tijuana has elected a new mayor, and the United States has elected President Donald Trump.  Trump has vowed to create a border wall and cancel the free-trade agreements, which have allowed for growth and cooperation in what Gastélum referred to as the “San Diego-Tijuana megaregion.” The San Ysidro border crossing is the busiest border crossing in the Western Hemisphere, with an average of 50,000 cars and 25,000 pedestrians passing from Mexico into California each day, according to the U.S. General Services Administration.

Faulconer and Gastélum spoke to an audience of diplomats, staff members, and business leaders from both cities.  In his comments, Faulconer emphasized the successes which have come as a result of the continuing commitment to cooperation between the two urban regions.

“Our story is about building a better future for people on both sides of the border,”  Faulconer said, according to KPBS.  “Our story is about success through cooperation.”

Gastélum echoed these sentiments.

“While some are thinking of building walls, we as the Tijuana-San Diego megaregion have focused on building bridges of understanding,”  Gastelum said.

While the two mayors largely avoided referring directly to Trump and the new administration’s plans for tightening border security, the national political climate seemed to be on the minds of both men.  Faulconer, a Republican, has been careful to avoid direct conflict with the president on immigration issues.  Instead, he chose to facilitate press conferences like this one to promote the successes of the region as a sort of counterexample to the narrative put forth by President Trump.

“We do cooperate, we do collaborate, and we do come together,” Faulconer said.

Just like Faulconer, many at the University of San Diego recognize the importance of proclaiming the successes of the unique relationship between Tijuana and San Diego in the midst of changing political circumstances.

Tanya Ibrahim is a senior at USD and native of San Diego. She has served as a student coordinator for many of University Ministry’s immersion trips to Tijuana, and she expressed her take on the value of communication between the two cities.

“The biggest thing for me is that dialogue is happening, and there are attempts being made to reconcile,” Ibrahim said.  “This meeting between the mayors is a way for us as San Diegans to understand where we stand mutually so that we can discern a better future.”

Ibrahim has led students in their process of becoming immersed in the issues surrounding border politics during the monthly day visits to Tijuana. She said she is concerned about student attitudes and student awareness.

“It’s hard because people often talk so negatively about the relationship, and they just assume that it doesn’t concern them because the issues don’t affect them directly,” Ibrahim said.

Ev Meade, PhD, of the Trans-Border Institute in the Kroc School of Peace and Justice has been committed to combating such short-sighted border narratives through his role as a researcher and an authoritative voice in public media.

“We aim to fact-check what people are saying and also make basic information on the border and the bi-national relationship available to the general public,” Meade said.

Meade has been featured by local news networks and university panels both here in San Diego and in Tijuana, and he is also a member of the advisory board for the American Bar Association’s Immigrant Justice Project.  Meade said he views the recent meeting between Faulconer and Gastélum as an important merger of local policy initiatives in the face of a shifting federal agenda.

“I think that if you look at trade between the U.S. and Mexico, it becomes clear what is at stake,” Meade said.  “The Cali-Baja region is incredibly productive, but any significant slowdown in cross-border traffic, as a result of new law enforcement measures or new security arrangements, would make our current infrastructure less efficient and would put thousands of jobs at risk.”

Meade said he views these looming policy initiatives as a major cause of tension not only for politicians, but also for families and business owners.

“People in Mexico are angry and feel a great sense of uncertainty,” Meade said.  “This uncertainty affects the future of the bi-national relationship and makes it really difficult for families to plan what their life or business outlook will be in the next five to ten years.”

Meade said he views meetings between local officials and business leaders, such as the one which occurred last Monday, are the best way for citizens of the San Diego-Tijuana megaregion to protect their mutual interests going forward.

“When you have a united front like this one you stand a better chance of communicating to the federal government’s just how much we have to lose,” Meade said.  “If these stakeholders remain vocal, they can present the successes of their multi-layered partnership as a scalable model for other border regions.”

To what degree these local efforts will impact looming federal budget decisions in Congress might be contingent upon the cooperation and mobilization of these stakeholders at all levels.

Glenn McDonell | Contributor