CALEXICO, Calif. — The daily commute from Mexico to California farms is the same as it was before Donald Trump became president.
Hundreds of Mexicans cross the border and line the sidewalks of Calexico’s tiny downtown by 4 a.m., napping on cardboard sheets and blankets or sipping coffee from a 24-hour doughnut shop until buses leave for the fields.
For decades, cross-border commuters have picked lettuce, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and other vegetables that make California’s Imperial Valley ‘‘America’s Salad Bowl’’ from December through March.
As Trump visits the border Tuesday, the harvest is a reminder of how little has changed despite heated immigration rhetoric in Washington.
Trump will inspect eight prototypes for his planned 30-foot border wall that were built in San Diego last fall. He made ‘‘a big, beautiful wall’’ a centerpiece of his campaign and said Mexico would pay for it.
But the current border barriers extend the same 654 miles they did under President Barack Obama, and so far Trump hasn’t gotten Mexico or Congress to pay for a new wall.
More than a year after the Government Accountability Office urged the Department of Homeland Security to develop a way to measure the effectiveness of barriers, DHS has no such tool ready.
A February 2017 report by the GAO found government has no way to measure how well barriers work, where they work best, or whether less expensive alternatives could be found.
Trump also pledged during the campaign to expand the Border Patrol by 5,000 agents, but staffing fell during his first year in office further below a congressional mandate because the government has been unable to keep pace with attrition and retirements.
In Tijuana, tens of thousands of commuters still line up weekday mornings for San Diego at the nation’s busiest border crossing, some for jobs in landscaping, housekeeping, hotel, and shipyards.
The majority are US citizens and legal residents or holders of ‘‘border crossing cards’’ that are given to millions of Mexicans in border areas for short visits. The border crossing cards do not include work authorization, but some break the rules.
Even concern about Trump’s threat to end the North American Free Trade Agreement is tempered by awareness that border economies have been integrated for decades. Mexican ‘‘maquiladora’’ plants, which assemble duty-free raw materials for export to the United States, have made televisions, medical supplies, and other goods since the 1960s.
Workers in the Mexicali area rise about 1 a.m., carpool to the border crossing, and wait about an hour to reach Calexico’s portico-covered sidewalks by 4 a.m. Some beat the border bottleneck by crossing at midnight to sleep in their cars in Calexico. Fewer workers make the trek now than 20 and 30 years ago. But not because of Trump.
Steve Scaroni, one of Imperial Valley’s largest labor contractors, blames the drop on lack of interest among younger Mexicans, which has forced him to rely more on short-term farmworker visas known as H-2As.
Scaroni’s main objective is to expand the H-2A visa program, which covered about 165,000 workers in 2016. On his annual visit to Washington in February to meet members of Congress and other officials, he decided within two hours that nothing changed under Trump.
‘‘Washington is not going to fix anything,’’ he said. ‘‘You’ve got too many people — lobbyists, politicians, attorneys — who make money off the dysfunction.”