Mexican truckers blockaded a key Texas border crossing for a second day to protest Governor Greg Abbott’s stepped-up vehicle inspections, raising the specter of delivery disruptions for everything from avocados to auto parts.
The growing queue of 18-wheelers on the Mexican side of the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge has choked crossings to a halt, according to a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. With temperatures forecast to reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius), produce hauled in unrefrigerated trucks is at risk of spoiling at a time of already rampant food inflation. The crossing normally sees about $35 billion in annual trade.
The dispute stems from Abbott’s decision just days ago to dispatch state police to inspect shipments flowing north into Texas in what he said would “ensure that Texans are not endangered by unsafe vehicles and their unsafe drivers.”
The delays “are significantly impacting the local and regional supply chain, to the point that local trade associations are requesting that the Texas government provide relief of process change to the border truck inspection process,” said a White House official, who said the blame lies solely with state officials and not federal border patrol agents.
On Tuesday, Mexico’s Deputy Trade Minister Luz Maria de la Mora sent a letter to the Republican leader of the second-largest U.S. state requesting cooperation in finding ways to keep trade flowing. The governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The blockade is forcing drivers to divert to alternative ports of entry, some of them hours away. As a result, other bridges are seeing traffic swell and the combination of more trucks and the Abbott-ordered inspections mean wait times to cross at Laredo have jumped to 4 hours from the normal 30 minutes, said Jerry Maldonado, president of the Laredo Motor Carriers Association.
“We’ve been trying to get the governor to listen to us,” Maldonado said in a telephone interview. “Unfortunately, as of this morning they are still doing the inspections and it’s still delaying all the border crossings in Laredo of stuff coming from Mexico to the U.S.”
A spokesperson for the Pharr-Reynosa bridge declined to comment, pointing out that the blockade is occurring on the Mexican side. The top products imported into the U.S. through the crossing are electronic, machinery, fruit and nuts, according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Office.
“The commercial traffic at Pharr International Bridge is currently halted temporarily, in both directions, due to a protest occurring on the Reynosa side of the bridge and due to no southbound movement by U.S. carriers,” the Border Patrol said in an email. “Under established business resumption protocols, northbound commercial traffic is diverted to neighboring ports of entry in the interim.”
Abbott’s order adds another layer of inspections for commercial truckers who already were subject to examination at Border Patrol checkpoints at the bridge and along Texas highways.
“The execution of this order has wreaked havoc up and down our supply chain and is likely to leave state store shelves with limited fresh produce supplies,” Dante Galeazzi, chief executive officer of the Texas International Produce Association, wrote in an open letter to Abbott.
In addition to motorist safety, Abbott’s order cited “cartels that smuggle illicit contraband and people across our southern border.”
The protest may also disrupt the busy “Semana Santa,” or Holy Week holiday, when thousands of Mexican tourists cross the border to go shopping and vacation in Texas border towns, said Gerry Schwebel, an executive vice president with Laredo-based International Bancshares Corp.
“With Semana Santa happening now, this is the worst time for us,” Schwebel said. “It’s one of the busiest times of the year at our international border crossings. If people are going to be stuck for hours at our ports of entry, they may not choose to come and that would be devastating to our border communities.”