New Mexico’s Santa Teresa port of entry had seen an increase in northbound commercial vehicle traffic until late Tuesday morning, when Mexican truck drivers -- fed up with increased wait times at El Paso’s international bridges -- staged a brief protest similar to those blocking Texas border crossings.
Until then, truckers from Ciudad Juárez and northern Mexico had skirted increased state inspections, and the longer wait times that came with them, at El Paso’s two commercial ports of entry by driving the extra 20 or so miles west to cross into the United States through New Mexico.
Since Friday, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers have been inspecting every commercial vehicle entering El Paso from Mexico, a move Texas Gov. Greg Abbott cast as an effort to secure the border ahead of next month’s lifting of Title 42, a pandemic-era health rule used to expel asylum-seeking migrants.
The increased DPS inspections at Texas’ border crossings are on top of the inspections truckers routinely undergo from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Department of Transportation and DPS, which previously did spot safety inspections on select commercial trucks.
David Coronado, the city of El Paso’s managing director of international bridges and economic development, said the governor’s directive has little impact on immigration, but instead deals a “severe blow” to cross-border trade.
“When you cause delays in truck traffic, when you now block completely truck traffic, this is not tied to Title 42 at all,” Coronado said. “This is completely hurting the industry, the manufacturing processes in El Paso, production and just the overall economy for our region.”
By Tuesday evening, Mexican truckers had lifted their blockades of the commercial lanes of the Ysleta-Zaragoza International Bridge in east El Paso and Santa Teresa Port of Entry in New Mexico. The roughly 24-hour traffic standstill at the El Paso port could cost companies “thousands if not millions of dollars," Coronado estimated.
The Bridge of the Americas in central El Paso was not affected by the blockade, but operates with limited hours.
Annually, $80 billion worth of trade passes through El Paso ports -- 80% of which is via commercial trucks, Coronado said.
Prior to the DPS inspections, an average 2,500 commercial vehicles passed through the city’s two commercial ports daily. Crossings were down 50-60% on Friday and Saturday due to delayed wait times of up to six hours, Coronado said. (The commercial lanes are not open Sunday). On average, it typically takes an hour to cross, according to CBP.
“The cost of doing business on the U.S.-Mexico border just went up on Friday -- considerably,” Coronado said.
Northbound commercial traffic at the Santa Teresa Port of Entry resumed around 5 p.m. Tuesday, according to CBP spokesperson Roger Maier. CBP kept the port’s commercial lanes open through 10 p.m. Tuesday, two more hours than usual, on account of the interruption.
Jerry Pacheco, president of the Santa Teresa-based Border Industrial Trade Association, called the decision to temporarily block the New Mexico port “counterproductive” and “badly directed frustration” on the part of Mexican truckers.
“Our governor (Michelle Lujan Grisham) and her administration’s policies as (it) pertains to Mexico, is 180 degrees opposite of what Texas’ is,” Pacheco said. “In fact, we’re a state that really welcomes trade with Mexico, we welcome the cultural connections, we welcome our neighbors.”
CBP opened the Santa Teresa Port of Entry’s three northbound commercial lanes for eight hours Saturday to alleviate the delays on El Paso’s bridges.
On Monday, CBP extended Santa Teresa’s commercial lanes by two hours.
“We should be looked at … as a favorable place to do business and bring your commerce and bring your logistics because that’s not going to happen over here, where all of a sudden we’re stationing DPS people and causing bigger headaches in the supply chain,” Pacheco said.
El Paso’s state legislative delegation is urging the governor to end the enhanced DPS inspections. In an April 8 letter to Abbott, they reiterated that all vehicle traffic that passes through Texas ports of entry is already subject to federal and state inspections.
In a Tuesday press release, CBP called the additional DPS inspections “unnecessary,” noting they occur after commercial vehicles are “comprehensively inspected and cleared to enter the United States by CBP.”
“Local trade associations, officials and businesses are requesting the Texas state government discontinue their additional border truck inspection process because it is not necessary to protect the safety and security of Texas communities and is resulting in significant impacts to local supply chains that will impact consumers and businesses nationally,” the release stated.
One of those officials is Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, a fellow Republican, who like Abbott is running for reelection in November. “You cannot solve a border crisis by creating another crisis at the border,” Miller said in an open statement Tuesday.
Abbott is scheduled to speak Wednesday afternoon at a DPS inspection facility in Laredo, according to a news release from the governor’s office. He will be joined by the governor of the Mexican state of Nuevo León.
Pacheco views the situation at Texas’ ports as a potential opening for Santa Teresa.
“We may get some increased permanent traffic out of this because of the whole mess that we have there (in Texas),” he said.