Federal officials have confirmed that a decision made in late March to redirect hundreds of employees responsible for processing trucks at the U.S.-Mexico border to deal with migrants is causing cargo delays to skyrocket.
In a media call this week, Randy Howe, director of field operations for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), said that truck wait times at Brownsville, Texas were two hours, compared with no wait a year ago. At Otay Mesa, a southern California crossing, wait times have shot up from 50 minutes a year ago to 4.5 hours this week, with 175 trucks going unprocessed on April 8. Passenger vehicles waiting to get into El Paso, Texas, were seeing two-hour delays compared with a 45-minute wait at the same time last year.
“Our field leaders at the ports of entry are reviewing their operations, taking into account the relocation of their officers to the border patrol sectors and they’re adjusting hours and levels of service where necessary to facilitate the lawful trade and travel through the ports,” Howe said on April 9. “The ports of entry field leaders have been in frequent communication with local authorities and trade stakeholders in order to mitigate any impact.”
The problem has the potential to extend to the U.S.-Canadian border as well. After CBP initially transferred 545 officers away from vehicle processing along the southwestern border, an agency official confirmed to FreightWaves on April 12 that it plans to send customs officers from airports and locations along the U.S.-Canada border on “temporary assignment” to the Southwest to deal with humanitarian issues. The exact number to be transferred was not available as of press time.
Carriers and shippers have been fearing the effects of disruption at the U.S. southern border after President Trump threatened to shut the border down, and then threatened tariffs, as a way to address the immigration crisis and drug importation. Last week a coalition of 18 trade and carrier associations sent the White House a letter warning of the potential costs to the U.S. economy in the event of slowdowns.
The economic effects are apparent when considering that Mexico is the third-largest U.S. trading partner, with the two countries generating $612 billion of trade annually. The roughly 16,000 trucks that move through Laredo alone account for 37 percent of U.S.-Mexico trade.
Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, Martha Bárcena, tweeted on April 11 that because of the highly integrated North American automotive supply chain, one piece of a car can cross the borders up to seven times before it is assembled. “A delay in the delivery of parts affects the entire chain,” she tweeted later.
“Automobiles and auto parts are certainly very large areas of concern, but we do so much trade with Mexico there are a lot of other goods as well that are being trucked into the U.S., including textiles and apparel, computer monitors and agriculture products,” Teresa Polino, a partner and international trade specialist at the law firm Arent Fox, told FreightWaves. “There’s also food coming in that spoils, and that’s where delays at the border can get really critical.”
Drivers already having to deal with potential fines related to new enforcement by CBP of electronic manifest filing now are exposed to hours of service violations as a result of the delays. One carrier has resorted to adding a second driver to deal with the problem, according to the Washington Post.
With staff changes at CBP following the resignation of U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen this week, Mexico will be looking to make sure the level of attention to the problem remains high.
In a tweet on April 10, Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s Foreign Affairs secretary, called policies that slow the flow of people and freight along the border “a bad idea” because they create supply chain costs for both countries. “Today we’ll establish communication with the new DHS authorities in that country to let them know.”