REYNOSA, Tamaulipas – Fully utilizing Anzalduas International Bridge for truck traffic would happen a lot quicker if a Customs & Border Protection built a pre-inspection facility similar to one now being tested in Tijuana.

This is the view of McAllen Economic Development Corporation President Keith Patridge, who recently visited San Diego, California, and, while there, watched news stories on TV about the CBP Tijuana pilot project.

Keith Patridge
Keith Patridge

Luis Videgaray, Mexico’s finance secretary, and R. Gil Kerlikowske, U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner, were in Tijuana earlier this month for the official unveiling of the new pre-inspection facility. It allows U.S. customs officers to work alongside their Mexican counterparts to inspect northbound trucks before they reach the Otay Mesa port of entry. Once they reach the bridge, the pre-inspected, northbound trucks can enter the U.S. without delay.

“What is happening in Tijuana is very exciting and has great potential for us. In Tijuana, close to their bridge, CBP is now pre-inspecting and clearing cargo trucks before they reach the international bridge,” Patridge said. “I can see that as being a huge opportunity for us at Anzalduas. We could have an export lot for Mexico, along with an import lot for the U.S. We would have CBP officers there that could clear the trucks on the Mexican side and they would then be able to just drive across the bridge.”

Patridge said the two federal governments have been able to move forward with the Tijuana pilot project because they issue over whether CBP officers can carry side arms into Mexico has been resolved. Patridge said a modification of Mexico’s firearms law made last year allows foreign customs and immigration officers to carry weapons while performing their work at the pre-inspection facility.

Darrel Renfrow
Darrel Renfrow

Patridge said having a similar facility close to Anzalduas International Bridge would save a lot of money, because less infrastructure would have to be built on the U.S. side of the bridge. “We could save a big portion of that $55 million that CBP is talking about as the cost of constructing an import lot. If we were to do that, that is where we really start chewing into that national debt issue, where we are not paying for infrastructure that is not necessary. We would not have the huge additional expense of adding lanes on the bridge or building two facilities, an export facility on the Mexico side and an import facility on the U.S. side.”

Patridge said he would like to sit down with CBP, the General Services Administration and congressional lawmakers from South Texas to see if such a facility can be built.

“What would be ideal, I think, is to continue what they are doing out there to the point where you actually have an import-export lot southbound on the U.S. side that would allow for Mexico customs to do their inspections and clearance on the U.S. side, along the CBP officials, who would be clearing exports,” Patridge said. “Mexico would clear imports on the U.S. for southbound and we would do vice versa for northbound, where we would have two import-export facilities, one in Mexico and one in the U.S.”

Patridge made his comments in an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian while attending a news conference held by INDEX Reynosa, the maquila trade association. The news conference, held at the Holiday Inn in downtown Reynosa, was held to give projections on maquila output in 2016.

Darrel Renfrow, one of the INDEX Reynosa board members, spoke to the Rio Grande Guardian about the need to drastically reduce border bridge wait times. Renfrow manages the Procesos Eslabonados de Manufactura, maquila on the east side of Reynosa.

“We have got to find a way of getting northbound trucks across our bridges a lot quicker. We have some challenges because the infrastructure in Mexico is insufficient for handling the volume we are talking about today,” Renfrow said.

“If you go down to Brownsville, they probably cross half the northbound trucks that Reynosa does but they have two bridges, Los Tomates and Los Indios. We only have one at the moment, which is Pharr. If you go to Laredo, which has enormous truck numbers, they have multiple bridges and their primary bridge is strictly commercial. They have a lot of lanes and they are able to process a lot of trucks. It would be interesting to compare the weight times, Brownsville, Pharr and Laredo. The fact is, no one wants their trucks sitting in line all day. It is just lost money and time.”

For Renfrow, the amount of time his trucks wait on the Pharr International Bridge is critical. It can make a difference on whether his company’s products get to their customer at all.

“We make a lot of small orders, made to order in a very rapid turnaround for the U.S. market. We typically do two exports a day and it is real challenge. Pharr is our only option. We have to connect with FedEx and UPS. It is the first question of the day, is the truck ready to go,” Renfrow said.

“It does no good to put a truck in line and you have to meet connections on the other side – you are sweating it every day. In my particular company it consumes me, worrying whether we are going to make delivery on time. We have to be very sensitive as to when we get our trucks in line.”

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar

Renfrow said he would like to see a lot more investment being made in Mexico to handle the increased amount of truck traffic. “They could do a lot more. We are going to wake up one day in two or three years and say, this has reached a tipping point. We need to be conscious of the fact this region is growing fast. The numbers say we are No. 3 in cargo. Laredo is huge, No. 1. Nobody touches Laredo. But I would say El Paso and Reynosa are very close. El Paso is slightly ahead of us but we are catching up. This is not a small manufacturing community anymore.”

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar was interviewed about border bridge wait times when he had a media availability event at his Mission district office recently. He pointed out that he had secured federal approval for public-private partnerships at international ports so that private funds can help pay for infrastructure or overtime for CBP officers.

Cuellar also said that Congress has provided funding for CBP to hire 2,000 additional officers.  “There was a little hiccup with Homeland (DHS) on the background security (of potential recruits) so they have only hired 700 out of the 2,000. Hopefully we can hire another 1,300 because a lot of them are going to come to the Texas border,” Cuellar said.

Cuellar said he also added language to the appropriations bill requiring the U.S. to “work with Mexico the way we work with Canada.” Cuellar said the language focuses on some specific things. “There is a disparity between our international ports of entry on the southern border and our international ports of entry on the northern border. “They do a lot more pre-screening on the Canadian border. “You have someone waiting on the bridge and it becomes a parking lot in the middle bridge. That is money lost,” Cuellar said.

Cuellar said that according to CBP estimates, trade with Mexico will continue growing five percent or more every year. “If you add more trade, which is good, we have to do more about border bridge wait times. Infrastructure is one of the biggest challengers we have. That is why we did the public-private partnership is so important, because Congress does not do enough on infrastructure. But we hoping to coordinate better with Mexico. There are a lot of areas where we can work with Mexico,” Cuellar said.

Asked to be more specific about how the Canadian border is more efficient, Cuellar said: “They get pre-cleared pretty quickly up there. I have added some riders to the appropriations bill for Mexico. You are going to see a comprehensive list of appropriation riders for the agencies dealing with Mexico. From agriculture to customs to micro-lending,” Cuellar added.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows Francisco Vega de la Madrid, the governor of Baja California, Mexico, Luis Videgaray, Mexico’s finance secretary, and R. Gil Kerlikowske, U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner. They are pictured at a ceremony for a new Customs and Border Protection inspection facility in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo: AP/Gregory Bull)