I am frequently asked if the flow of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border from countries in Central and South America are affecting commerce and industry at the border. I respond that migrants who make it across the border generally don’t break into production plants and distribution warehouses or account for crime such as robberies, assaults, and/or auto theft. However, I do make it clear that the majority of migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. are doing so at the southern border’s ports of entry, and this is where the impact on commerce is really felt.
From April 14 to April 17, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) temporarily suspended northbound commercial shipments processing at the Bridge of the Americas (BOTA) in central El Paso. This was done in order to process waves of immigrants who showed up at the port to seek amnesty. A day later, it warned industry representatives that the Zaragoza Port of Entry in east El Paso could expect commercial processing delays due to traffic being diverted from BOTA. The Santa Teresa Port of Entry in New Mexico also saw higher northbound commercial shipments as it acts as a reliever route for the El Paso commercial ports of entry.
The Trump Administration activated Title 42, which is a public health law enacted during the COVID pandemic that allows CBP to deny migrants entry into the U.S. They generally are processed quickly at the ports of entry and then returned to Mexico, where they must wait for an asylum hearing. Title 42 was extended during the Biden Administration and is set to expire on May 11. Frustrated migrants, who are tired of living precariously in Mexico, and who have tried unsuccessfully to use an internet-based application to request an asylum hearing, have started to approach the ports of entry demanding entry into the U.S. To deal with the situation, the Biden Administration issued a decree mandating that migrants from Haiti, Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua first seek asylum at the U.S. Embassy or consulate offices in their home country. Failure to do this will cause them to be denied asylum in the U.S. The Biden Administration also announced that it will begin admitting 30,000 from these four countries per month for up to two years.
I have heard estimates that there could be up to 20,000 migrants in Mexico, who are waiting their turn to seek asylum in the U.S. The newest surge is resulting in between 1,400 to 1,600 apprehensions per day, most of whom are expelled, which is a different term from deported. Under Title 42, migrants can be expelled multiple times without facing arrest, trial, and incarceration. CBP is struggling to process this many migrants with the logistics system it currently has. Shelters in communities such as El Paso, Texas, are already bursting at the seams providing shelter for migrants allowed into the U.S., while they await their fate. CBP often has to expel migrants in different places than where they entered the U.S. This is like the proverbial “squeezing the sausage” analogy.
Mexico, which has been cooperating with the U.S. by accepting expelled migrants, has been a little less helpful since the tragic fire that led to 39 deaths at a migrant detention center in Juarez on March 27. This incident, and the haphazard way that the migrants in this detention center were rounded up, has been an international embarrassment for Mexico. Normally, when waves of migrants have amassed at bridges attempting to cross into the U.S., the Mexican National Guard blocks them from reaching the U.S. side. When the latest waves arrived at BOTA, the Mexican government did not intervene, most likely due to skittishness that lingers in dealing with migrants after the fire tragedy. If migrants are not detained crossing the ports in Mexico, they technically can walk over to the U.S. side, where they have to be processed. This puts the strain on CBP officers to deal with thousands of desperate migrants determined to cross into the U.S.
Thus, CBP leadership at the ports of entry has to redirect officers from clearing and inspecting northbound commercial shipments from Mexico to processing migrants. This also has resulted in fewer private vehicle lanes being open for crossings into the U.S. Needless to say, frustration is the word of the day for all of the groups affected by this latest wave of migrants. The Borderplex (El Paso-Juarez-southern New Mexico) is frustrated and angry at the delayed crossings and their effect in terms of slowing down commerce, and throwing a monkey wrench into the supply chain.
I imagine that the U.S. government is frustrated that Mexico has not pitched in this time to prevent migrants from overwhelming CBP staff at the ports of entry. However, the U.S. needs Mexico’s cooperation on immigration and other issues, and has not publicly called out Mexico on this matter. Finally, most of the migrants who cross into the U.S. and are apprehended will be quickly processed and expelled to Mexico, which results in a waste of time for everybody. The latest waves and commercial delays should be an example that our immigration policy needs to be solved in Washington, D.C., and in a bipartisan manner.
Next month: What happens when Title 42 goes away?