PHARR and LAREDO, Texas – The effects of Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order instructing Texas Department of Public Safety officers to inspect all vehicles crossing into the state from international ports of entry were on full display Monday as commercial trucks from El Paso to Brownsville were stalled in hours-long lines.

Two of the hardest-hit bridges were in the Rio Grande Valley. The Laredo-Colombia Solidarity International Bridge saw lines stretching for miles while the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge, which boosts over $33 billion in trade, was completely shut down with blockades in both the northbound and southbound lanes. These delays have industry leaders and organizations pleading with Gov. Abbott to reconsider his order.

Dante Galeazzi, president and CEO of the Texas International Produce Association, wrote a letter on Friday, warning the governor about the disastrous effect the policy will have on Texas’s $9 billion fresh produce industry. He said with the 70 percent decrease in crossings over the weekend and the total deadlock on Monday, about $30 million of produce has been left on the Mexican side of border so far at the Pharr International Bridge alone. Because of the shelf life and perishability of the products, it is unlikely that they will cross through Texas at all, and some that have crossed have been ruined as refrigerated trucks ran out of fuel. Galeazzi says this is of major concern as companies will lean into their already established trade networks and partnerships in other states to fulfill orders, affecting consumers and the estimated 8,000 Texas produce workers.

“We are going to continue as an industry to feel the pain for this executive order,” said Galeazzi. “It is a very hard cost for the industry to bear on top of the eight months of additional supply chain increases that we’ve had to deal with.”

Jorge Torres, founder and president of Interlink Trade Services, says for other sectors, rerouting cargo is not so easy.

“From the maquiladora standpoint, especially the ones that are located at the border, it would be very difficult for them to divert shipments to other states,” said Torres. “…They’re kind of stuck. We’re just trying to find border crossing that are feasible for them that are not far from us.”

Torres says customs brokers like himself are working overtime to redirect shipments to smaller bridges in the region like the Progresso International Bridge, the Roma-Ciudad Miguel Alemán International Bridge and the Free Trade International Bridge in Los Indios. Torres emphasized that these efforts, however, will not facilitate trade in the long run as the bridges are already being overburdened by the increase in traffic. He also expressed concern for the drivers as they wait in long lines without food or water or a place to relieve themselves.

“That’s putting a Band-Aid to the problem,” said Torres. “Maybe trucks will flow gradually and slowly, but that’s not a solution.”

Torres notes that the DPS inspections themselves are not the issue; it is the bottlenecks created by their proximity to U.S. Customs and Border Protection stations. Trucks exiting a CBP lane will find themselves immediately stopped to undergo the additional state inspection. 

“Do your inspections of that’s what you want to do, but do them further north,” said Torres. “Let the traffic flow. That’s all we’re asking. Let the truck traffic flow because you’re putting a stop to the flow of legitimate trade. That’s what we’re looking for, and that’s what we’re hoping will get resolved as soon as possible.”

Rep. Henry Cuellar and Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz held a press conference to highlight the trade disruptions in the area. Cuellar said that while he supports Gov. Abbott’s desire to secure the border amid the Biden Administration’s decision to end Title 42 expulsions, he believes the reactive order is causing more harm than good. 

“The only thing that DPS can do is do a mechanical check, which means that they check the brakes, maybe the windshield wipers, the tires – that’s all they can do,” said Cuellar. “…So, how does that even solve the problem? What does that have to do with Title 42? I understand what the governor is doing, but what he’s doing is adding to the cost because if there’s a delay, who’s going to pay for that? The companies are going to send it down to the consumer.”

Saenz agreed, saying that their appeal to the governor is not political grandstanding about illegal immigration, but a genuine concern for Texas trade.

“You heard it from the industry,” said Saenz. “The people can say ‘well, it’s the politicians – the elected officials – that are going against our governor’ and so and so. No, this is real. This is what impacts our economy and the North American economy as well. It’s going to impact NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement].”

Criticism for the policy also came from the governor’s own party. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller released a statement Tuesday, saying the additional DPS inspections are ‘turning a crisis into a catastrophe.’ He urged Gov. Abbott halt the program and instead reallocate state resources to legally combat the Biden Administration in court. 

“This is not solving the border problem,” said Miller. “It is increasing the cost of food and adding to supply chain shortages. Such a misguided program is going to quickly lead to $2 lemons, $5 avocados and worse. Texas should instead lead the way by urging other states to join Attorney General Paxton’s lawsuit to preserve Title 42.”

He emphasized, “If the Biden administration can’t be compelled to do their job to protect the border, then we need a federal judge to compel Biden to do what is right.”

Garrick Taylor, policy director for the Border Trade Alliance, commended the work of CPB and DPS officers and recognized their unique duties in keeping Texans safe. But, he reiterated the organization’s stance on the redundancy of both departments inspecting vehicles in the name of border security.

“We all want a secure border,” said Taylor. “It’s an important issue for everyone who lives in the region from El Paso to Brownsville. What we don’t want to do, however, is harm trade and travel and the livelihoods of the hard-working families in the border region who have faced nearly two years pandemic-induced disruptions. This makes a bad situation worse.”

Galeazzi echoed the sentiment and called on the Gov. Abbott to meet with stakeholders to solve the problem.

“We’d love to see the resumption of normal business practices,” Galeazzi. “We’d love to have a conversation with the governor’s team. We’d love to find a solution that fits all the right angles and move this forward. Our domestic industry are growers along the [Rio Grande] River, so we very much want border security, but it can’t come at the expense of legitimate trade. It just cannot.”

Editor’s Note: The main image shows Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller at a ‘Start of the Fresh Produce Season’ celebration at the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge in Jan. 2019. (Photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)


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