As of recent, thousands of migrants from Central America have reached the border weeks after fleeing their native countries. Mexican border cities such as Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana were impacted by this massive migration. Once on the border region, the migrants tried to apply for asylum in the U.S.
The U.S. reacted and stopped the migrants before they reached the inspection point where they could initiate the process for asylum. Thousands of migrants were stuck in Mexican soil and they are still there because just a small percentage has had the initial appointment to file the petition for asylum.
Some of these migrants are already in packed detention centers in the U.S. The ones in Mexico are living in shelters supported by the Catholic Church.
This situation created a migration crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border that called the attention of President Trump, who threatens Mexico to close the border as a pressure measure to ensure the Mexican government stops Central American migrants.
“Closing the border does not address the issue of migration. It is not the way to go because it would directly harm U.S. businesses and consumers,” said Paola Avila, vice president International Business Affairs at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. “It’s not just the products, but the American workforce, and even the environment, experience the consequences of border slowdown, and a possible shutdown.”
Nationwide, CBP had more than 12,000 migrants in custody. The agency considers 4,000 to be a high number of migrants in custody and 6,000 to be at a crisis level, the agency informed.
In addition, CBP is taking more than 60 migrants to the hospital each day and has dedicated almost 100,000 hours of officer and agent time to medical transport and hospital watch.
Around 40% of CBP personnel are working to care for, transport, and process vulnerable families and children. As a result, the border wait times will continue to increase, affecting everyday life at the border.
“CBP will continue to do everything possible to manage this crisis and protect the most vulnerable in this process. CBP’s men and women are serving with honor and vigilance, despite stark challenges,” said the agency in a statement.
In March, 10,885 people presenting themselves at ports of entry on the Southwest Border were deemed inadmissible, compared with 9,651 in the month of February and 10,309 in January. In fiscal year 2018, a total 124,511 people presenting themselves at ports of entry on the Southwest Border were deemed inadmissible, CBP data shows.
Apprehensions at the southwest border also spiked. In the first 3 months of this year, the apprehensions reached 238,320 migrants, a 93% increase compared to the same period in 2018. Up to 60% of the apprehended migrants are from Central America, namely Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
The massive increase of asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border has forced U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to re-assign officers from the cargo inspection points to be the custodians for thousands of migrants. This situation has worsened bottlenecks during peak hours, and now the cargo that lasted between three or four hours to cross the border must wait more than 48 hours.
The increase in wait times began once U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to close the border if the immigration situation continued.
The re-assignation of 750 CBP agents as well as the internal changes promoted the closing of cargo inspection points during the weekend in some border cities.
In the Ciudad Juarez-El Paso region, the cargo inspection was canceled on Saturdays on the Bridge of the Americas, while in Nogales it was closed on Sundays. Other ports of entry still have the same schedule, but less truck lanes are open; therefore, the wait time is longer.
“This shifting of resources and personnel will have a detrimental impact on all southwest border ports of entry. CBP will have to close lanes, resulting in increased wait times for commercial shipments and travelers,” said CBP in a press release.
These two ports of entry are critical for trade since Ciudad Juarez exports electronics and auto parts, while Nogales handles a lot of produce. El Paso ports process 13% of all the U.S.-Mexico trade by value the second most important port in this field. Nogales handles 4% of the trade value between both countries.
To meet its Just in Time policy, maquiladoras have been using air cargo, but it has spiked the shipping and operative costs.
“Removal of specialized officers is a major problem. Closure of commercial lanes is hurting us today,” said Pete Saenz, Mayor of Laredo, during a virtual conference organized by the Wilson Center. “A manufacturer called me estimating nearly a million dollars in overtime costs.”
Luis Aguirre Lang, INDEX president, said the maquiladora is struggling to meet the Just in Time policy and many automotive and medical manufacturers are sending their products via air cargo, but it cannot last many weeks because it is really expensive.
He explained this situation is critical since at least one maquiladora in Juarez already stopped one production line because it was unviable to export the product in the agreed dateline.
Moreover, Manuel Sotelo, vice president of the northern region of the National Chamber of Freight Carrier (Canacar), explained that the first day president Trump threatened to close the border; CBP processed seven trucks per hour when the average is 40.
“We are dealing with a huge problem for the industry and the region,” he added
Border cities in northern Mexico have more than 1,200 maquiladoras, and most of the products are sent via ground in trucks to be exported to the U.S. Around 600,000 jobs in this region are directly tied to the maquiladora.
The sheer volume of freight moving by truck between Mexico and the U.S. was of US$484 billion last year, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Trucks are crucial in cross-border trade because they carry 67.9% of the value of freight to and from Mexico, according to the TransBorder Freight Data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). The most common goods trucks carry includes electronics, machinery, and auto parts.
In the last decade, the number of trucks crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has increased drastically. In Texas, the traffic increased 23% in 10 years, 15.3% in California, and 8.91% in Arizona. New Mexico registered the highest increase in truck border traffic with a 204% percentage in a decade.
“Border security is enhanced as we trade. We need a strong partnership with Mexico to deal with the issues happening in Central America, and consequently secure our country,” said Glenn Hamer, Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry president and CEO. “Closing the border with one of our largest partners would have catastrophic economic consequences. We need to be creative in terms of getting resources to our ports of entry.”
As a way to reduce the long border wait times, CBP moved 100 agents from airports and the northern border to southern border cities, Representative Veronica Escobar wrote on Twitter.
This situation worries to Legislators such as Vicente Gonzalez and some associations such as The Texas International Produce Association.
“The delays and lack of @CBP officers are causing cargo trucks to now stay overnight to be inspected the following morning. Thus increasing wait times for new cargo traveling northbound,” Gonzalez said in a tweet.
He informed wait times have quadrupled from 2018 and 3 out of 7 northbound cargo lanes are closed.
The Texas International Produce Association issued an open letter to Texas Governor Greg Abbott asking him to help get additional CBP personnel to the ports of entry on the Texas border.
“We cannot emphasize enough the importance of moving additional resources to the border as quickly as possible to assist the understaffed CBP personnel working at our POEs,” the letter stated. “Every day we delay, the wait times continue to grow, industry will continue to suffer, and ultimately jobs will be lost.”
Still, border communities have been affected by this new migration trend. In Mexico, the communities struggling to support the thousands of migrants aiming to get to the U.S. to seek asylum. On the other hand, internal changes in CBP are changing the social and economical dynamic at the border.