First in a two-part series
The last couple of weeks have seen chaos and turmoil at ports of entry on the Texas and New Mexico borders with Mexico.
In an action he described as a measure to combat the rescinding of Title 42 in May, which will reverse the federal government’s ability to immediately deport to Mexico immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. due to the pandemic, on the week of April 4, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered secondary inspections by Texas DPS on northbound cargo shipments into Texas. This is in addition to the routine inspections that Customs and Border Protection conducts on northbound commercial vehicles entering the U.S. Abbott claimed that too many illegal immigrants and contraband are currently entering and will be entering the U.S. when Title 42 goes away.
The effect of Abbott’s action was immediate. Northbound shipments into the U.S. slipped to a crawl, with many trucks in major Texas ports such as El Paso waiting up to 12 hours to cross. Produce shipments spoiled and products failed to reach their destination on time. Trying to avoid the mess in Texas, companies started shipping their cargo through New Mexico’s Santa Teresa and Columbus ports, which caused long lines and longer crossing times. Adding to this mess, Mexican truckers, infuriated by Abbott’s decree, blocked the northbound lanes at various Texas ports, including El Paso. They then proceeded to Santa Teresa and blocked that port for six hours on April 12. Industry representatives, many of Abbott’s fellow Texas Republicans, and the White House itself denounced the gridlock Abbott was causing.
Facing strong backlash, Abbott quickly convened meetings with Mexico’s border governors. He then conducted press conferences and issued press releases stating that the Mexican governors had agreed to increased inspections of cargo on the Mexican side of the border.
I imagine that the Mexican governors were between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, they had to have been angered by the effects and losses that Abbott’s unilateral action had on their states, and were probably reluctant to help him out of a tough spot. On the other hand, they were under pressure from the trade sector to do something. Therefore, the Mexican governors of the states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Coahuila and Chihuahua all went along with Abbott in order for him to rescind his order. How the inspections will be verified and how long they will last was not reported.
CBP conducts inspections of northbound cargo using X-rays, random inspections, drug-sniffing dogs, and a variety of high technology applications. In 2001, it launched Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (CTPAT) as part of its multilayered inspection of cargo. This is a program in which carriers, consolidators, licensed customs brokers and manufacturers work with CBP to increase the security of shipments and to strengthen the supply chain. Technology, GPS, securing systems and monitoring equipment are all used in order to make sure that shipments are not contaminated with contraband. Companies all along the border enroll in CTPAT to form a strong partnership with CBP.
And what did Abbott’s program solve? Nothing. CBP’s diligence and the CTPAT program are most likely the reason in which Abbott’s secondary inspections yielded nothing press-worthy, other than Texas DPS announcing that they had put some trucks out of commission for safety violations. This is what DPS agencies in the four U.S. border states do randomly as part of their ordinary duties. No major drug shipments or human smuggling rings were found by Texas DPS.
When the effects of the stalled traffic, gridlock and backlash began to dominate the news, Abbott brushed off the seriousness of the situation by stating that it was a rather small inconvenience suffered by a few in the pursuit of a larger issues involving illegal entries and contraband. Therein lies the real reason behind Abbott’s actions, which were never intended for their actual stated goals. Rather, focusing on these national hot button issues is a good way to position himself as a border governor tough on illegal entries of humans, drugs and contraband. He gambled that he could raise his profile away from the border, most likely helping him in the future if he wants to launch a campaign for the presidency. Whether his gamble pays off yet remains to be seen.
Sadly, Abbott’s actions continue the trend of using the U.S.-Mexico border as a punching bag for political purposes, especially during election season. I am sure that Abbott’s advisers cautioned him that his secondary inspection program would yield little in terms of its objectives. However, the opportunity for him to be in the news away from the border was too alluring, and he proceeded anyway not fully understanding the mess his actions would cause. As one Mexican governor stated, “It is never a good thing to lead with politics when attempting to solve a problem.”
Next article: The effects and aftermath of Abbott’s secondary inspections.
Jerry Pacheco is the executive director of the International Business Accelerator, a nonprofit trade counseling program of the New Mexico Small Business Development Centers Network. He can be reached at 575-589-2200 or at email@example.com.