Economically catastrophic: Business leaders voice concern over border shutdown

The U.S.-Mexico border in recent months has seen a rapid surge in the number of migrants from Central America crossing into the U.S. at and between official ports of entry seeking asylum in the U.S.

While President Trump has backed off earlier threats to close the entire border with Mexico, the administration is still taking steps to deal with the spike in crossings.

In an effort to support Border Patrol’s processing of the migrant surge, the Department of Homeland Security has redeployed hundreds of U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers away from the ports of entry. The personnel shift has resulted in lane closures and reductions in operations at ports along the U.S.-Mexico border, causing longer wait times for commercial trucks, vehicles and pedestrians.

To further examine the border closure threat, and the effects of the slowdown in cross-border traffic, the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center hosted a podcast with leaders from California, Arizona and Texas to discuss what states are experiencing at their ports of entry and what a full closure would mean to their economies.

Chris Wilson, deputy director of the Mexico Institute, explained why the administration would continue to threaten a border closure.

“The rationale for the current partial border shutdown and the threat of a full shutdown have two different elements,” Wilson said. “At times it has been portrayed as a means to gain leverage over Mexico to push them to do more to stop the flow of migrants. At other times it’s been described as a necessary redeployment of resources to process the spike in mostly families arriving at the border.”

Paola Avila, vice president of international business affairs at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, stated that for years her region has experienced border delays. Her team has studied the effects of a two-hour border wait time at San Diego’s cargo ports of entry, resulting in a loss of $2.9 billion in the region a year, an equivalent of 40,000 jobs. Across the nation, border delays are responsible for $7.2 billion in lost economic activity.

“In Otay Mesa [port of entry] since the redeployment of CBP agents and the loss of 51 agents from the San Diego field office, we’ve seen a doubling of border wait times,” Avila said. “The first day it increased from two hours to four hours, on Friday it was a five-hour wait time at the car port of entry. The redeployment is on a 30-day plan, with the possibility of extending that. Thirty days of doubling the wait time is hugely detrimental. We don’t need to run numbers to figure out what impact it might have, we already know what that impact has had in our border region.”

Laredo, Texas Mayor Pete Saenz told the group that he knew of manufacturers that were working overtime because of uncertainty over when they will be getting new shipments due to lane closures.

“One manufacturer had to make between $600,000 to $900,000 in just overtime costs,” Saenz said. “We ask for a quick fix, to get the CBP officers back and open those lanes and allow trade to proceed.”

Ironically, these delays of trade are happening in the midst of efforts to ratify the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement. In order to facilitate trade with Mexico, the border must remain open.

“We are strong supporters of the immediate congressional ratification of the USMCA, the new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada,” Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry President and CEO Glenn Hamer, said. “This is something that even the administration supports. We would obviously not realize the benefits of this agreement if we continue to slow down our ports of entry, or even worse, a more severe closure.”

Morgan Carr

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