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PHARR, RGV – While members of Congress and Mexican officials complain about a reduction in U.S. customs officers at ports of entry, Pharr leaders are working to expand infrastructure to improve the flow of truck traffic.

Customs and Border Protection personnel have been moved to help Border Patrol process a surge in Central American nationals seeking asylum in the United States.

“Stopping the flow of people and goods on the northern border is a very bad idea: it is creating costs for the value circuits of both Mexico and the United States,” wrote Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Marcelo Ebrard on Twitter. “Today we will establish communication with the new DHS authorities in that country to let them know.” 

Luis Bazán

In Tamaulipas in general and the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge in particular, the scenario has not been encouraging for trade, according Mexican entities.

“We have a crossing of 2,500 trucks a day and 70 percent are not crossing to the U.S. because the trucks stay on the Mexican side, waiting only for the Pharr bridge,” said Constantino Castillo Hinojosa, president of the International Tamaulipas Energy Cluster.

Castillo and City of Pharr officials met for a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the expansion of the Pharr Bridge’s administrative offices. 

Castillo said he represents more than 300 companies in the energy industry, including hydroelectric energy, renewable energy and gas pipelines. 

The International Tamaulipas Energy Cluster establishes close links with state governments, businesses, academia and research centers, according to the group’s website.

Luis Bazán, bridge director for the City of Pharr, declined to talk about delays on his bridge. “We are not commenting on this because these are nationwide,” he said. 

Pharr City Commissioner Eleazar Guajardo

Instead, Bazán explained how the Pharr Bridge has been growing and why they are expanding their offices.

“As we have been growing by leaps and bounds, there was a need to have larger offices and be more efficient for our clients,” Bazán said.

“We are still the number one bridge in the nation in perishable goods, in particular in the avocado season we are number one. We are in the top five for manufactured products, including the automotive sector. Also, we are exporting to Mexico, much natural gas, diesel and gasoline.”

Pharr City Commissioner Eleazar Guajardo was prepared to talk about increased delays at his city’s bridge.

”If there are delays in the movement to the north, it is something that affects US customs, the producer and the one that imports the product to the United States, because their product can be delayed and spoiled,” Guajardo said.

Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez

“Our city is affected very little (monetarily) since we send the transport to the south and in that sense we do not have any delay.”

Guajardo was referring to the fact that Pharr collects toll fees for trucks going south. Disruption to southbound traffic has been minimal, as compared to trucks coming north.

Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez also agreed to talk about the issue.

“We are working very well with the U.S. Congress, Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security. They have to do their job and we understand it. They will move the resources they have. They are limited. That is really the problem,” said Hernandez.

“They have to move the resources to serve all the people who come, immigrants, and we understand it. The president and the Congress have to make the movement to put more resources on the border so that the flow of trade traffic does not stop.”

The three members of Congress representing the Rio Grande Valley – U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar, Filemon Vela and Vicente Gonzalez – have been vocal in their opposition to moving CBP officers away from ports of entry.

Gonzalez said problems have been caused by the redirecting 750 CBP officers away from ports of entry.

“I spoke with CBP Deputy Commissioner Perez and received the commitment that additional 100 agents will be replenished at struggling ports of entry as soon as Monday, April 15, 2019,” Gonzalez said. “The deputy commissioner noted that overtime for existing agents will begin and the agency will ask retired vetted agents to return to service in lieu of full-time new hires. I am putting my faith in the deputy commissioner and will hold the entire agency accountable until this is resolved. It’s time to get the border back in business.”

It is not only the reassignment of federal officers at international bridges that is causing delays. Last Wednesday, DHS confirmed that the Gateway Bridge in Brownsville was closed due to a “simulation” event. Federal officers were practicing how they would cope if caravans of people came up from Centro America.

Meanwhile, Mexican federal authorities in Tamaulipas said they are planning to expand the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge on their side to resolve the problem of long lines. They noted that some of the problems predate the deployment of CBP officers away from the Pharr-Reynosa bridge.

“We are working on a project hand-in-hand with Pharr to develop a pre-inspection site in the city of Reynosa. We already have almost 100 hectares. It would be an enclosure to avoid the large lines,” said Luis Armando Grajales Alcanster coordinator of priority programs for the federal delegation of Tamaulipas.

“The trucks would already be fully labeled to go to the US. We would have refrigerators, vacuum chambers, driver training and drivers’ overnight to avoid the long lines.”

Grajales said it is a federal government project coordinated with the State of Tamaulipas.”We are in the study phase and we have already defined the portion of land. I think we can start in a month, a month and a half.”

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