Now that the immediate threat by President Donald Trump to close the U.S. border with Mexico has passed, people in other parts of the country may be under the impression that business has returned to normal along the Rio Grande.
Texans, especially those of us who live and work on the border, know better.
With the recent spike in people reaching the border in search of asylum, the administration has reassigned 750 U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers from the various ports of entry.
This has devastated the flow of goods from south to north and the ability of people to legally cross the border. Crossing times have jumped 200 to 300 percent in each port affected.
Wait times for trucks in Laredo have spiked to almost 12 hours.
Our ports of entry were already under severe stress as a result of the federal government’s long-term failure to invest in basic infrastructure in order to keep pace with the growing volumes of legal commerce and transit.
The reassignment of CBP personnel has pushed the ports beyond the breaking point.
To highlight only one example, Customs and Border Protection normally processes 8,000 northbound trucks on a daily basis at the World Trade Bridge, only a stone’s throw from my office in Laredo.
According to a recent briefing, CBP is currently processing only 5,000, with 3,000 trailers backed up in Mexico.
This is an especially perilous situation as we approach Holy Week, one of the busiest times of year for travel from Mexico to the United States. During this week before the Easter holiday, visitors from Mexico will spend thousands of dollars on high-end clothing and other goods.
According to a statement from Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, U.S. trade with Mexico exceeds $1.7 billion daily, and nearly half a million people legally cross the southern border every day as workers, students, shoppers and tourists.
The inability to quickly and efficiently move through our legal port of entry has already cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars.
The U.S. economy simply cannot grow if we impede cross-border trade and restrict the flow of legal immigration for the human capital our nation needs.
Mexico is the United States’ third-largest and Texas’ number one trading partner.
Continued paralysis at our ports of entry will disrupt supply chains, trigger price increases and lead to immediate layoffs while causing an imperceptible effect on the illegal immigration that the administration hopes to address.
In Laredo, we’d rather see common sense security solutions that deter illegal immigration and smuggling without such a detrimental impact on our economy. Yes, we need better security along the U.S.-Mexico border. We need it at our legal ports of entry, where the vast majority of drug smuggling and human smuggling occurs.
There are also common sense and taxpayer-friendly ways to enhance security along more remote areas of the border.
Providing better access to the Rio Grande with paved roads, removing invasive species that provide cover for smugglers and high-tech solutions such as sensors and done can enable Border Patrol and local law enforcement to do their jobs more effectively than a much more costly physical barrier.
But what is needed most, in addition to long-overdue upgrades to our ports of entry, is reform of our legal immigration system.
The surge in migrants arriving at the southern border can be addressed in sensible ways without a complete closure of the our border.
We need the federal government to assign the personnel necessary to quickly process asylum claims. Congress can modify asylum laws to narrow legitimate claims and expedite the process.
We want President Trump to keep the wrong people out of Texas and the rest of the country.
But we also want to keep our border open to the commerce and legal immigrants who have always contributed to making Texas and the United States an increasingly prosperous place.
Editor’s Note: The above guest column by IBC Bank President Dennis Nixon first appeared in the Austin American-Statesmen on April 15, 2019. It reappears in the Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of IBC Bank.