Border wait times for commercial trucks at El Paso ports of entry surged after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered enhanced state inspections, sparking a domino effect of disruptions to the manufacturing supply chain that could soon hit U.S. factories, consumers and the Texas economy. á
Late last week, the Texas Department of Public Safety began inspecting nearly every commercial vehicle that crossed the U.S. border after it cleared federal customs. The second layer of inspections on April 11 generated a bottleneck, and truck drivers began reporting wait times between four and 12 hours at area ports of entry.
Business leaders say the wait times are jeopardizing just-in-time delivery of auto parts to U.S. assembly plants and delaying the shipment of consumer goods to U.S. stores.
A DPS spokesman didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman in El Paso declined to comment on the enhanced DPS inspections.
Miriam Kotkowski, president of Tecma Transportation Services, manages a fleet of 80 commercial vehicles that move goods between Mexican maquilas and U.S. stores and factories. The business is an arm of the El Paso-based Tecma Group of Companies, a manufacturing service provider that operates more than 35 plants in Juárez employing about 9,000 people.
She said the additional inspections are creating a “tremendous” disruption.
“It is inhumane to keep (drivers) 12 hours in a line with no access to bathrooms or food,” she said. “What can I say? It’s hurting the economy. It’s hurting the image of Texas.”
‘Never did I face a struggle like that’: Haitian migrant escapes Del Rio border crisis
Abrupt policy changes at the U.S.-Mexico border can quickly rattle the supply chain, end to end.
On April 6, Abbott issued a two-paragraph order to DPS Director Col. Steven McCraw “to conduct enhanced safety inspections of vehicles as they cross international ports of entry into Texas. These inspections should begin immediately to help ensure that Texans are not endangered by unsafe vehicles and their unsafe drivers.”
The order was one of several steps Abbott declared he would take in response to the Biden administration’s April 1 decision to lift a pandemic-era policy known as Title 42. The policy, issued and now rescinded by the Centers for Disease Control effective May 23, requires border agencies to quickly expel migrants to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in border holding stations.
Abbott said the extra state inspections were one of several “aggressive actions by the State of Texas to secure the border in the wake of President Biden’s decision to end Title 42 expulsions.”
Texas trade took a terrible hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, as commerce slowed.
The state’s ports processed nearly $88 billion in imported goods from Mexico in 2020, a sharp drop in a pandemic year from $104 billion in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau foreign trade statistics. Texas exported $89 billion in goods to Mexico in 2020, down from roughly $109 billion in 2019.
El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said there has been “very little communication” between the governor’s office and the city and county regarding Abbott’s border policies.
“There was a such a backup” at the border, Samaniego told reporters on Monday at a Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition conference, where Abbott spoke. “I don’t think he understands the impact, and he makes a political decision not really understanding the impact.”
At international ports of entry in El Paso on Monday, CBP continued to process commercial vehicle traffic, screening tractor-trailers with X-ray technology and physical inspections as part of the U.S. government’s day-in, day-out efforts to facilitate legitimate trade while intercepting smuggled goods. A protest by frustrated truck drivers on the Mexican side at the Zaragoza port temporarily stopped traffic flows on Monday.
Commercial vehicle wait times at El Paso’s Bridge of the Americas and Ysleta-Zaragoza ports were averaging 30 minutes to an hour before the enhanced state inspections began.
Kotkowski said she began redirecting her fleet to the Santa Teresa port of entry in New Mexico, where CBP expanded its processing capabilities by opening commercial lanes on Saturday and extending hours of operation on Monday to accommodate the traffic detouring through New Mexico.
She began sending in runners with burritos and pizzas to feed tired truckers and providing “relay” drivers to relieve those who have been waiting for hours.
Jerry Pacheco, president of the Santa Teresa-based Border Industrial Association, said manufacturers are looking to New Mexico to facilitate the stalled trade at the Texas border.
“With this situation, everybody knows we have to bend over backwards to accommodate the trade over here and CBP is doing a very good job,” he said.
Lauren Villagran can be reached at [email protected]