International bridge between Eagle Pass, Texas and Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico.

Port of entry closures are unacceptable

Customs and Border Protection on December 4 announced the closure of an international bridge in Eagle Pass, Texas spanning the Rio Grande and a land port of entry at Lukeville, Arizona. Days later CBP closed a pedestrian crossing in San Ysidro, the border community south of San Diego. Just recently, CBP suspended rail crossing operations in Eagle Pass and El Paso, Texas. CBP has closed other bridges at times throughout 2023, each closure more disruptive than the next.

These closures are in part a consequence of the inability or unwillingness of successive Congresses and administrations to reach a durable agreement on immigration and border security.

But the blame for today’s debacle rests in the epic mismanagement by the current administration of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It’s not just Republican governors and members of Congress voicing criticism. It’s a growing list of prominent Democrats.  

The closures are unacceptable. They damage cross-border trade. They cause shipping delays and cost increases, which get passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices on store shelves. They make travel more difficult for folks who want to visit friends and family or simply run errands, and they cut off small businesses from their customers.

It’s clear that many on Capitol Hill and the current White House don’t understand cross-border trade and travel’s importance to every border community. Eagle Pass and Lukeville rely on trade and travel just as much as behemoths like Detroit or Laredo, Texas or San Ysidro, Calif. For the people who live and work in the affected areas, the ports are essential to their livelihoods.

When it comes to beer imports, no one is bigger than Eagle Pass. A little over two hours south of San Antonio, the city sits across from Piedras Negras, Coahuila, and the nearby town of Nava, where Constellation Brands brews beers like Corona and Modelo. The annual value of beer imports at Eagle Pass is more than $3.5 billion. Eagle Pass is also a major import point for kitchen appliances, clothes, and vehicle parts.

Lukeville serves as the main port for travelers to and from Arizona and the beach community of Puerto Peñasco, or Rocky Point. It’s also isolated. CBP suggests travelers instead go west and use the San Luis port south of Yuma or go east and cross at Nogales. It’s an approximately three-hour drive from San Luis to Puerto Peñasco, nearly five hours via Nogales. It’s no wonder that in what should otherwise be a busy holiday travel season, merchants in Puerto Peñasco describe their community “like a little ghost town.”

CBP says the closures are necessary to shift personnel to assist with the migrant surges on the Mexican side of the border, which have become a humanitarian calamity. Border Patrol agents and CBP officers have an already difficult job made even more challenging by Washington’s ineptitude, and, as a result, the country’s legal trade and travel corridors are shut down, while illegal migration only grows.

The story of immigration reform in Washington is a long and frustrating one. Over the years, some members of both parties have negotiated in good faith, but many haven’t, preferring instead to demagogue an issue where real action is needed.

Here are some recommendations:

  • Bridge and port closures are intolerable. The consequences of a mismanaged border and of unscrupulous smugglers who lie to migrants should not be borne disproportionately by the American people. The processing of legitimate trade and travel should take priority over migrants with dubious amnesty claims.
  • The administration needs to get the border under control, and agency staffing levels at the U.S.-Mexico border shouldn’t bear the entire burden. To deal with migrant surges, Border Patrol agents and CBP officers should be shifted from locations other than the Southwest border.
  • The president should signal he’s ready to bargain and give congressional Republicans most of what they want. A bill like H.R. 2, the heavy enforcement bill House Republicans passed earlier this year, may not include the type of policy the president would prefer, but he should at least be willing to cut a deal for its political value. One look at his poll numbers and it’s obvious that immigration could sink his campaign.
  • There is an emerging solution to be had if members of both parties will take yes for an answer. Senators like Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., and Tom Tillis, R-N.C., stayed in Washington before the holiday recess to negotiate an immigration deal that could reform our amnesty laws, allow for more expedited removals, and clean up the parole system that releases some migrants from U.S. custody. Party leaders should encourage their rank-and-file members to study the proposal before criticizing it.

These are recommendations for the near term. We and our colleagues in the business community for more than a decade have urged Congress and the White House to reach an agreement that can meet the country’s border security requirements, that reflects the realities of our economy, and that encourages cross-border commerce. But right now, our states’ international borders are in crisis. Washington needs to fix the damage it’s inflicted.

Danny Seiden is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry. Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business.

Photo courtesy J. Stephen Conn. CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic

Glenn Hamer

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