U.S. customs officers from the Canadian border and airports will be sent to El Paso and other cities amid growing frustration over lengthy border-crossing wait times.
Two weeks ago, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reassigned 750 officers from ports of entry on the Mexican border to help the Border Patrol deal with large numbers of Central American migrants arriving in El Paso and other areas.
The port of entry staffing shifts closed lanes, caused 12-hour delays of cargo shipments, snarled traffic in Mexico and tested the patience of cross-border commuters.
U.S. and Mexican business, manufacturing and political leaders said that extensive delays threaten commerce, industry and tourism far from the border.
Selected CBP officers from airports and the northern border “will be replacing the CBP officers currently assigned to support the Border Patrol along the Southwest border,” a CBP official said Thursday.
After meeting with CBP leadership this week, U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, tweeted that 100 additional agents will be sent to El Paso and another border sector starting on Monday.
A spokesman for Escobar said Thursday that her office was still waiting on details on the reassignment of CBP officers.
CBP did not disclose the exact number of officers and locations where they were coming from and where they are headed.
CBP shifts worsen delays
Border-crossing delays worsened two weeks ago after CBP reassigned 750 port officers to assist Border Patrol with the processing, transportation and hospital watch duties involving detained migrants.
The reassignment was announced March 27 by then-CBP Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan in a visit to El Paso.
McAleenan said the border had hit its “breaking point” due to an influx of thousands of asylum-seeking Central American migrants who have been arriving and surrendering to Border Patrol agents.
McAleenan is now the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security following the resignation of DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
The shifting of CBP officers away from the ports of entry raised worries about its impact on national security, drug interdiction and international commerce.
The long delays have angered commuters who live on one side of the border but work, go to school or shop on the other side.
Drivers have reported waits of more than four hours to enter the U.S. at some of the international bridges in El Paso, compared to 90 minutes the previous week.
Pedestrians have also reported waiting up to an hour compared to what used to be a 10-15 minute wait.
Border wait times frustration grows
Manufacturing industry leaders said delays are causing production problems in Juárez factories and could slow manufacturing operations in the United States.
A three-mile-long line of hundreds of 18-wheelers loaded with electronics, furniture and other cargo bound for the U.S. waited in Juárez on Thursday afternoon.
Pedro Sanchez was among the hundreds of truckers lined along Juan Pablo II boulevard stretching along the Rio Grande from the Bridge of the Americas past the X monument.
The 57-year-old truck driver said that he had never seen lines like this in the 20 years that he has been delivering loads of food-products over the border.
Border crossings that used to take an hour can now be patience-draining half-day waits, he said.
“It tires us, and it hurts economically and environmentally the longer we’re here,” Sanchez said. “We get up early and our trip can be from 3 a.m. to 11 p.m.”
Some truckers sleep in their trucks waiting in line to take their cargo to its destination in El Paso.
Juárez’s traffic officers and security guards are helping manage traffic by organizing trucks into three rows.
To deal with the long waits, the city of Juárez placed portable restrooms for drivers along the route. Food vendors park along semi-trucks taking orders for burritos and aguas frescas.
Security officers with dogs walk along the line of trucks making sure cargo stays secure.
Last week, CBP began closing cargo lanes at El Paso’s Bridge of the Americas on Saturdays, furthering delays.
The reassignment of CBP officers to assist Border Patrol has also caused delays at the international bridges in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.
The policy shift has caused three out of seven northbound cargo lanes to face closure and wait times to quadruple from last year, said U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat whose district covers part of South Texas.
“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.
The Texas International Produce Association last week issued an open letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott asking him to help get additional CBP personnel to the ports of entry on the Texas border.
Texas is the crossing point of nearly $7 billion in produce with more than 7,800 jobs directly linked to the flow of produce arriving from Mexico, the association stated.
The association explained that wait times at the border had jumped from a half-hour per truck to more than 4.5 hours per truck last week.
“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.”
© 2019 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.