On US-Mexico border, despair at system 'broken by racism'

Jean Luis Arce
·3 min read

Leslie Cortez was born in the United States, lives in Mexico and works in the border city of San Diego. Since Donald Trump became president she feels less welcome, but is also unconvinced by his rival.

Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric encourages people to "be racist towards me," said the 32-year-old dual national, who each day joins the long queues of commuters crossing the border.

She wants to vote in the November 3 presidential election for someone who understands "what the people need," but is unenthusiastic about Democratic candidate Joe Biden as well.

"He's been a politician for more than 40 years and hasn't done as much as he could have for Latinos," she said.

Adrian Romero was also born in the United States -- home to 37 million people with Mexican ancestry -- but lives over the border in Tijuana and commutes to California.

Both love their roots as much as the American way of life, and while they prefer to shop in San Diego, the tacos taste better at home.

Romero is disillusioned with what he sees as growing polarization in the United States.

He plans to abstain from voting next month in protest against a system "broken by racism."

- 'Fear and hate' -

Trump sparked anger during his 2016 election campaign when he branded Mexican migrants "rapists" and drug dealers, and vowed to build a wall across the southern US border.

It became one of Trump's signature pledges, and polls indicate that voters with roots in Mexico and other Latin American countries are more likely to choose Biden next month.

Voters with Latin American ancestry now rank addressing racism and discrimination above improving wages and creating more jobs, according to a survey by Latino Decisions.

"The fear and hate that Trump has instigated over the last four years has done little to inspire trust among Latinos," said Adrian Pantoja, a professor and analyst at the research group.

"Latinos clearly want a president who will stop the attacks against them and other minorities, and their confidence rests with Joe Biden," he added.

Biden commands a 34-point lead over Trump among eligible Latino voters, according to a survey released by the Pew Research Center on October 16.

For the first time ever, Latinos will be the largest ethnic minority group in the November elections, accounting for around 13 percent of eligible voters, according to the think tank.

Under Trump, the relationship between the United States and Mexico has faced repeated crises in the areas of immigration, trade and security.

But Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has managed to maintain cordial relations with Trump and even visited him in July on his first official foreign trip.

- 'Totalitarian philosophy' -

Every morning during the pandemic after her husband leaves for work, Cortez gets her five-year-old son Andree ready for online classes and feeds her six-month-old Pia.

Her house in Tijuana, a gift from her parents-in-law, saves them the roughly $1,000 a month that it would cost to rent a home in San Diego.

"How am I going to pay if I have my own house? I prefer to cross over," she said.

At around noon, she drives her children to her mother's home before heading to the San Ysidro border crossing, one of the world's busiest, to go to work as a jewelry store manager.

Romero commutes to California to work in a cellphone store and drives home each night with the music on full blast to crime-plagued Tijuana, where he lives with his mother and dog.

The 24-year-old earns the minimum wage of $13 an hour, not enough to survive living in the United States, he said.

With curly hair, a prominent nose and bushy beard, Romero said he often faces checks at the border as he "looks like he's from the Middle East."

He feels that discrimination "got worse" under Trump.

"Right now the social philosophy is totalitarian: you're either with me or you're my enemy," he said.