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Texas food-growers say enhanced border inspections are threatening business

Not only are commercial vehicles having to undergo lengthy inspections on the border; protesters are also said to be closing international ports of entry.

TEXAS, USA — In Pharr, Texas, one of the busiest ports of entry between the United States and Mexico stands quiet this week, closed to all vehicles as truckers on the Mexican side continue reportedly blocking access to the bridge.

They’re said to be protesting enhanced inspections, undertaken by the Texas Troopers and ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott as part of his expansion of Operation Lone Star. 

Meanwhile, local associations, leaders and business owners are calling for Abbott to stop the expanded inspections.  

“We've had trucks stuck on the border for two to three days,” said Bret Erickson, senior vice president of business affairs at Little Bear Produce, a grower, packer and shipper of green sweet onions and melons based in Edinburg. “These fruits and vegetables that we're bringing are perishable, they're highly perishable, especially the greens. So every hour, every day, that goes by, the quality of these products are diminishing. Once you harvest the commodity, it's a race to get it to the grocery store shelf, so that you can get it to the final end use, consumer, as fresh as possible.”

Erickson said these delays are costing the business a tremendous amount of money. He said many people in the supply chain are affected, including truckers and, eventually, the consumer. 

“Imagine if you got caught in the middle of one of these deals where you are already in line, you're stuck trying to get to the U.S. side. And you’re stuck for 24, 36 hours,” Erickson said. “Think about the logistics, having to use the bathroom. I’ve heard stories about people using the bathroom on the bridge. You’re a truck driver, you’ve moved one load over the span of three days, it’s impacting their ability to make a livelihood as well.” 

When, on April 6, Abbott announced the enhanced vehicle inspections to be conducted by the Department of Public Safety , he anticipated some fallout.

“I know in advance, this is going to dramatically slow traffic from Mexico into Texas,” he said in his speech. “It is a byproduct of cartels crossing the border from Mexico into Texas.”

Lieutenant  Chris Olivarez, with the Texas Highway Patrol in the South Texas Region, says DPS has always inspected vehicles. Just not all of them. 

“The difference now is that we are enhancing operations,” he said. We are enhancing those safety inspections by increasing manpower at the ports of entries and inspecting more trucks than we have ever inspected before.”

Olivarez said ports of entry in Pharr, Brownsville, Los Indios, Laredo, Del Rio, Eagle Pass and El Paso are where DPS has expanded its inspections.

“When we talked about inspections, they can last anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour,” Olivarez said. “So it is going to cause delays, especially when we're having to inspect every single truck coming across that bridge. As of right now, there is no plan in place as far as trying to create more lanes for these trucks.”

“We continue to see increases in smuggling situations where they're using different tactics, most recently commercial vehicles,” Olivarez added. “That's why the governor made that announcement—not only to crack down on these organizations and the smuggling attempts, but also to make sure these commercial vehicles are safe to operate on Texas roadways.”

According to the latest DPS statistics available, Olivarez said DPS inspected 3,443 commercial vehicles between April 6 and April 10. Of those, 807 of those were placed out of service for safety violations while 79 commercial drivers were placed out of service. Olivarez said 11,556 violations were detected. 

Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Field Operations (OFO) routinely inspects vehicles coming into the U.S. A media fact sheet released by CBP on Tuesday called the DPS inspections “unnecessary.”

“As a result, vehicles have been significantly delayed in exiting the federal inspection plaza (in El Paso and Laredo) leading to traffic disruptions and critical impacts to an already-strained supply chain,” CBP’s statement reads, in part. 

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, a conservative, called on the governor to “immediately end enhanced inspections of commercial vehicles at the southern border.”

“While I share the governor's goals and his frustration with Washington, D.C., and the Biden administration, we cannot cut off our nose to spite our face,” Miller said in an email sent to his subscribers. “The middle of an inflammatory surge and supply chain problems is no time to cause further disruptions."

Governor Abbott’s spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

Meanwhile, Congressman Henry Cuellar (D) sent a letter to Governor Abbott urging him to cease the additional inspections of trucks at the border.

Congressman Cuellar's letter said in part:

“Requiring the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to conduct mechanical inspections (breaks, tires etc.) does nothing to address Title 42 except provide costly delays to the United States supply chain. Your duplicative mechanical inspections have been costly to the local, state and national economies. None of the violations from these inspections involve the smuggling of drugs or people. 

“These inspections have resulted in a significant increase in commercial wait times at ports of entry. Since the inspections began, the Hidalgo/Pharr port of entry reached a peak wait time of 320 minutes. The average is 63 minutes. The result has been a 35% decrease in commercial traffic. Colombia Solidarity Bridge, which averages a 26-minute wait time, reached a peak wait time of 300 minutes and has seen over a 60% drop in commercial traffic.

 “In the interests of all Texans, we must ensure that the state resources are deployed in the most effective manner possible and not to the detriment of the communities that we represent. I am asking you to stand down the DPS inspections immediately. Thank you for your consideration."

Beto O'Rourke, a Democrat who’s running for governor against Abbott, was in the Rio Grande Valley Tuesday to talk about the trucks stuck on the border awaiting inspection.

“It does nothing to stop the smuggling of human beings. It does nothing to improve the safety or security of the people of Texas,” O’Rourke said.

In the end, Erickson told KENS 5, consumers are going to be the ones to feel what’s happening now on the border, in their pockets. 

“Retailers are fighting for less supply, and they're paying more money. That means that those costs are going to be passed along to consumers,” he said. 

When? 

Erickson said “soon.”