Arizona’s ports of entry at the United States-Mexico border are experiencing major spikes in the length of time it takes commercial trucks to clear inspection due to the redeployment of Customs and Border Protection officers away from the ports in order to assist Border Patrol with its processing of increased migrant asylum claims. Officers handle cargo inspections at the ports, while Border Patrol agents enforce the vast areas between ports.
The Trump administration has reassigned nearly 550 border inspectors to other jobs, such as processing migrants, performing hospital watch for those who require medical attention and providing transportation for others. At this point there is no timeline as to when they will return to their regular responsibilities of screening trucks.
The Border Patrol recently stated it set a new monthly record for apprehensions at the border in March. More than 53,000 family members were stopped in March, hitting an average of 1,700 per day. This is a giant spike up from the previous record just one month before in February when levels were at 36,000 people.
Since March 19th, Border Patrol has released more than 11,000 migrants, causing a strain on border communities. Yuma Mayor Doug Nicholls on Tuesday declared a state of emergency due to lack of city resources to handle the growing number of migrants released from custody by Border Patrol.
Though the mayor does not believe the migrants are a danger to the community, he does need more help at the border to help control the situation, as the city’s migrant shelter is running out of space.
Yuma is not the only border city needing more resources. Ports of entry across the southern border are experiencing longer wait times as resources are shifted to address the migrant crisis.
What used to take minutes is now measured in multiple hours or even overnight wait times for truck drivers trying to enter the U.S. By reassigning inspection officers away from CBP field offices in San Diego, El Paso and Laredo, the Trump administration has reduced the available manpower needed to handle the regular commerce that comes through the ports of entry.
In Arizona, places like Nogales and San Luis rely on temporary infusions of personnel from the agency throughout the year to help boost staff levels at the typically understaffed ports. Not receiving the temporary staff has resulted in the equivalent of an 8 percent personnel cut for the Tucson field office, which oversees the Arizona ports.
In Nogales, it’s meant that the commercial Mariposa port is closing on Sundays to cargo inspections, backing up cross-border trade on weekends. Hundreds of trucks come through the border in Nogales on a daily basis, hauling produce like watermelons, berries, and tomatoes—a $6 billion economic boost to the state.
Over in Juárez, Mexico, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, the city brought in portable toilets to allow truck drivers staying in line for days to use the bathroom.
The delays force CBP to play a game of catch-up each day.
“They’re having to push cargo through quickly, which has its own risks,” explains Russ Jones, a former Arizona state representative and the president and CEO of R.L. Jones Management Group, a major customs brokerage firm along the U.S.-Mexico border. “When you try to get some things flowing you open the door to more liabilities from not inspecting thoroughly,” adds Jones.
The delays are affecting not only commercial crossings, but pedestrian and vehicular crossings, too, which are important to local border economies that depend on shoppers from Mexico.
“San Luis and Nogales, for example, depend heavily on the Mexican day tourists who cross the border to shop,” “If you’re facing one-hour normal wait times and now it’s four hours, you think twice about the stuff you planned to purchase in the United States. Even if it’s more expensive in Mexico, you’ll still buy what you need in Mexico, such as retail items. This can really hurt the surrounding area.”