Safe to travel to Mexico? Valley residents looking for answers that are hard to provide

Threats by President Donald Trump to close the border have sparked concerns among central San joaquin Valley families about traveling to Mexico for the holidays as they fear they could end up stranded on their way back, local community leaders say.

The busiest U.S.-Mexico land border crossing – the San Ysidro Port of Entry – was closed for about four hours on Sunday following an incident when as many as 500 members of a caravan tried to cross from Tijuana to San Diego. President Trump responded with a tweet renewing his call to permanently close the border.

From Sunday through Tuesday afternoon, a group at Cesar E. Chavez Adult Education Center in Fresno that organizes health fairs had received 25 calls asking about the wisdom of traveling to Mexico for the holidays, said leader Ricardo Castorena.

Families were also asking how long they would have to stay in Fresno if the border closed behind them and whether they’d need special documents, Castorena said. He said he wasn’t able to advise people to go or not to go because no one knows if the border could close again, and if it did, the decision wouldn’t be based on any law or policy.

Castorena said he was referring callers to the Mexican Consulate in Fresno, other local organizations and attorneys.

The Mexican Consulate didn’t respond to requests for comment.

At the local organization Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network, executive director Maricela Gutierrez said SIREN has been fielding about five calls a day with questions about the border, plus more during events. She said some of the callers are worried about traveling to Mexico because of the caravan headed north, which she said has been “portrayed negatively.”

Many families from the Central Valley travel to Mexico by vehicle as it’s more economical. Others travel to the airport in Tijuana to catch flights to other parts of Mexico from there because it’s more affordable, Gutierrez said.

Closing the border also affects hundreds of thousands of people who cross the border to work and children who attend school in the U.S., Gutierrez said.

“Our hope is that this doesn’t happen again,” she said, adding that Sunday’s closure was “an unnecessary action,” and people should be able to travel freely without having to worry about the border shutting down.

Mario Gonzalez, who oversees the immigration department at Centro La Familia, said these concerns are not new for his organization. People calling Centro La Familia have been worried about traveling to Mexico under the current immigration climate.

“It’s been a conversation for a while now,” Gonzalez said.

People, especially those with permanent residency status, have asked what impacts they might see if they were to leave the country under the current immigration climate, he said. The organization provides education on their rights.

For example, if someone with permanent residency status stays in Mexico for more than three months, the individual can be questioned, and if the person stays outside the country beyond six months, that can be a red flag for immigration officials, he said.

“We really focus on making sure they are aware of their rights in this country and what their status in this country allows them to do,” he said.

Yesenia Amaro: 559-441-6144, @YeseniaAmaro