Every day, more than 40,000 commercial trucks cross over the Pharr International Bridge into Texas from the Mexican city of Reynosa.
Carrying things like fruits, vegetables, and machine parts, they spill out into an intersection with two gas stations. It’s an essential stop for many of the truckers, who often have to idle for hours on the three-mile-long bridge waiting for U.S. customs officials to scan and approve their loads.
“It’s a really long time,” said truck driver Cristián Dávila, as he stood in the shade pumping diesel fuel into his tank. “Sometimes up to five, six hours, depending on the line. Sometimes we get in line at 9 a.m., and we get here at 6 p.m.”
In late March, U.S. Customs and Border Protection began pulling customs agents away from their regular jobs at ports of entry and reassigned them to process migrants at the border.
“When the migrant situation began and they began closing lanes, it became worse,” Dávila said.
CBP has since moved some personnel back to customs processing at the ports. That’s improved wait times somewhat. Dávila said he waited less than an hour on his last trip across the border with a load of mangoes, chile peppers, cucumbers and squash.
But all along the border, companies are still concerned. Staffing at ports of entry remains an issue, and business leaders worry about a possible repeat of the situation that occured this spring, when President Trump’s threats of tariffs led to a surge of Mexican imports that made traffic even worse.
“The waits have definitely gotten much longer since many of these policy changes were put into place,” said Rufus Yerxa, the president of the National Foreign Trade Council. “For a U.S. business that is operating in a North American economy with a lot of co-production facilities on both sides of the border — also for industries that are very dependent on speed of delivery — these delays are lost money, lost time.”
In late June, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced the deployment of National Guard troops from his state to help alleviate the traffic delays.
“They will be working in assisting border patrol at ports of entry to facilitate, especially, commercial traffic coming in as well, as any other traffic that may be coming across the border,” Abbott said at a news conference.
Neither the Governor’s office, the Texas Military Department, nor CBP responded to requests for clarification about what exactly the troops will be doing.
CBP did brief some business leaders who do cross-border shipping and logistics work. At Parker and Company, a customs brokerage agency, General Manager Tony Rivera said they were told that the National Guard would not processing shipments.
“They’re here on a security function,” Rivera said. “They’re not here to be able to do law enforcement. They’re here to secure our border and also to provide security for customs and for border patrol.”
Rivera said he welcomes additional security at the ports and along the border generally. But he said to reduce the delays, CBP needs trained officers—people who know how to process goods and handle manifests. Industry leaders say there would be a need for more customs officers even without the migrant crackdown, because trade between the U.S. and Mexico is expanding.
“As a brokerage community, we need people that are experienced, that are trained to be able to process customs documentation (who) understand the business, understand the urgencies,” Rivera said.
This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Copyright 2019 North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC. To see more, visit North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC.
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