By Robbie Whelan
Mexican officials and business leaders along the U.S.-Mexico border warned that delays at ports of entry are causing tens of millions of dollars in losses for shippers and logistics companies, as tension grows over President Trump’s threats to close the frontier between the two countries.
Over the past week, lines of vehicles and wait times for commercial trucks have grown steadily at ports of entry in El Paso, San Diego and other points along the 2,000-mile border. The delays came after hundreds of U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents who manage the flow of commercial traffic were reassigned to help stem the flow of migrants seeking to enter the country.
The Department of Homeland Security on Monday reallocated up to 750 officers, citing a “growing security and humanitarian crisis at the border,” and said that the reassignments might rise to more than 2,000 personnel, about one-eighth of the total on the Mexican frontier.
DHS estimated that as many as 100,000 migrants sought to enter the U.S. at the border in March, levels not seen in over a decade.
“Security is more important to me than trade,” Mr. Trump told reporters Tuesday.
White House economic director Lawrence Kudlow said Wednesday the administration was discussing ways to keep freight lanes open if Mr. Trump decides to close the border. He didn’t elaborate.
Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister, said Tuesday that the reassignments had caused huge delays by removing agents who inspect cargo vehicles as they enter the U.S.
“If we don’t succeed in normalizing this very soon, it’s going to cost us economically, in both countries,” Mr. Ebrard said.
An average of about $1 million in commercial goods and services flow across the U.S.-Mexico border every minute, according to Jon Barela, chief executive of the Borderplex Alliance, an advocacy group that represents businesses in and around El Paso, Texas, one of the busiest crossing points for goods.
He said delays, including the threat of a border shutdown, have caused tens of millions of dollar of losses, hitting the agricultural sector and the auto-manufacturing industry hardest. The North American auto sector is highly integrated, and relies on the constant flow of parts and components back and forth across the border.
“I’m getting calls from a number of businesspeople in the area and they’re concerned about orders on the back end of the manufacturing process. Their clients—manufacturers and logistics companies—are very concerned that orders will be curtailed or even stopped,” Mr. Barela said. “These two issues, commerce and migration, need to be separated. This won’t be the last migration crisis in this country.”
In Ciudad Juárez, the Mexican city that sits just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, two-hour waits for cargo trucks have grown into five or six hour delays and 8-mile long queues, forcing truckers to make only one single round-trip journey per shift, down from two or three crossings per day under normal conditions.
This week, the delays spread to the Laredo crossing as well, according to Jorge Solis, director general of Xpress International, a logistics firm that manages about 400 trucks in northern Mexico. There are 40 trucks a day just of beer from a Heineken beer plant in Monterrey, Mr. Solis said. The delays have forced him to scramble to find available trucks to meet the demand.
“The trucks are waiting to cross the border, and at the same time the company is still pumping out beer in Monterrey that we need to pick up,” Mr. Solis said. “Everybody loses money, because they are not able to get their product on the shelf. Even if everything resolves tomorrow, we will still have several hundred trucks stranded in Mexico. This problem won’t go away for three weeks or so.”
The United Fresh Produce Association, which represents the interests of hundreds of growers and fruit and vegetable processors in Washington, warned members of delays and partial closures in El Paso, Laredo, San Diego as well as Tucson and Nogales in Arizona. The slowdown would likely cause millions in economic losses and increase costs to consumers, the group said.
“Already, inspection delays are being felt from El Paso to San Diego costing farmers, truck drivers and companies of all sizes,” the association said in a statement. “The solution to our immigration problems is not closing the border or slowing commercial traffic, but for Congress and the Administration to work together on real immigration reform.”
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