Trucker protest on US-Mexico border halts traffic for a third day

Trucker protest on US-Mexico border halts traffic for a third day

A busy trade port along the US-Mexico border remained closed for a third day amid rising anger about orders from the governor of Texas requiring extra inspections of commercial trucks.

The slowdowns began after the Republican Governor Greg Abbott ordered officials last week to conduct vehicle safety inspections at entry ports to uncover the smuggling of people and contraband. The measures have snarled traffic and led business groups to warn of supply chain disruptions.

Since Monday, Mexican truckers have blocked the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge in protest. Unusually long backups — some lasting 12 hours or longer — have stacked up elsewhere along Texas’s roughly 1,930-kilometre (1,200-mile) border.

The Mexican government said that Abbott’s order was causing “serious damage” to trade, and that cross-border traffic had plummeted to a third of normal levels. On Wednesday, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki called Abbott’s order “unnecessary and redundant”.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks during a rally, in Conroe, Texas, US, in January [Go Nakamura/Reuters]

The gridlock came as a fallout of an initiative that Abbott said is needed to curb people smuggling and the flow of drugs. But critics have questioned how the inspections are meeting that objective, while business owners and experts complained of financial losses and warn US grocery shoppers could notice shortages as soon as this week.

The development also comes after the Biden administration announced on April 1 that it would lift Title 42, a contentious policy along the US-Mexico border that effectively blocked the entry of most asylum seekers into the US. Border officials and rights groups are expecting an increase in the arrival of migrants and asylum seekers by May 23, the day the order will be lifted.

The announcement drew an immediate response from Republican leaders who have long advocated for reducing immigration into the US. Three Republican-led states have already sued the Biden administration over the decision.

Frustration is also spreading within members of Abbott’s own party: Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, a Republican, called the inspections a “catastrophic policy” that is forcing some trucks to reroute hundreds of miles to Arizona.

“I do describe it as a crisis, because this is not the normal way of doing business,” said Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, whose county includes the bridge in Pharr. “You’re talking about billions of dollars. When you stop that process, I mean, there are many, many, many, many people that are affected.”

The disruptions at some of the world’s busiest international trade ports could pose economic and political threats to Abbott, who is seeking a third term in November. Democrat Beto O’Rourke, the former presidential candidate who is running against Abbott for governor, said during a stop in Pharr on Tuesday that the inspections were doing nothing to halt the flow of smuggled people and were worsening supply chain issues.

On Wednesday, the White House said Abbott’s truck inspection policies at the Mexico border are disrupting supply chains and leading to higher prices for goods.

“Governor Abbott’s unnecessary and redundant inspections of trucks transiting ports of entry between Texas and Mexico are causing significant disruptions to the food and automobile supply chains, delaying manufacturing, impacting jobs, and raising prices for families in Texas and across the country,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

The White House, battling rising inflation and supply chain challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, said the continuous flow of legitimate trade and travel should not be obstructed.

“Governor Abbott’s actions are impacting people’s jobs, and the livelihoods of hardworking American families,” the White House said.

An estimated 3,000 trucks cross the Pharr bridge on a normal day, according to the National Freight Transportation Chamber. The Pharr bridge is the largest land port for produce, such as leafy green vegetables, entering the US.

Migrants at border
Three Republican-led states have already sued the Biden administration over the decision to lift Title 42 [File: Go Nakamura/Reuters]

Mexico supplies about two-thirds of the produce sold in Texas.

Joe Arevalo, owner of Keystone Cold, a cold-storage warehouse on the border said that although Texas state troopers have always inspected some trucks crossing the border, “They’ve never, ever, ever held up a complete system or a complete supply chain.”

“We’re living through a nightmare, and we’re already suffering through a very delicate supply chain from the pandemic and to try to regrow the business,” Arevalo said.

The additional inspections are conducted by the Texas Department of Public Safety, which said that as of Monday, it had inspected more than 3,400 commercial vehicles and placed more than 800 “out of service” for violations that included defective brakes, tyres and lighting. It made no mention of whether the truck inspections had turned up smuggled people or drugs.

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