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A day after Gov. Greg Abbott announced that his plan to conduct “enhanced safety inspections” of commercial vehicles crossing into Texas could “dramatically slow” traffic across the border, local officials and business groups are still trying to gauge the potential impact on their economy, which depends on trade with Mexico.
“That’s one of the things McAllen is concerned about,” said Javier Villalobos, that border city’s Republican mayor. “We’re going to see how it affects us. But of course if it affects negatively, we’re going to be in the governor’s ear daily.”
On Wednesday, Abbott directed the Department of Public Safety to immediately begin enhanced inspections of commercial vehicles crossing into the state from Mexico, a move aimed at stopping the large number of migrants crossing into the state. Abbott took that step as federal officials prepare for thousands more migrants at the border in May, when the Biden administration ends a pandemic-era emergency order that allowed immigration officials to turn away migrants, even those seeking asylum.
Without that order, federal officials say they could be overwhelmed by the large number of migrants expected at the border this summer.
Abbott is targeting commercial vehicles because he said they are used by drug cartels to smuggle migrants and drugs through the ports of entry. He said DPS troopers would conduct enhanced inspection of commercial trucks “as they cross the international ports of entry.”
But it is unclear how the directive will work. Federal authorities already inspect commercial trucks as they pass the ports of entry and state troopers would have no authority in federal jurisdictions. Troopers could do further inspections after the trucks get past the federal points, as they have done in the past and continue to do in some areas like Laredo. But increased inspections there could lead to substantial delays in the flow of northbound traffic.
DPS Director Steve McCraw said Wednesday the inspections wouldn’t be done on federal property or international bridges but that drivers would get plenty of warning that they would have to stop for an inspection.
State authorities could also choose to set up checkpoints for commercial trucks further inland to avoid a bottleneck at the ports. But that would allow potential smugglers to disperse and find other ways to move their cargo once they’ve crossed the port of entry.
Travis Considine, a spokesperson for DPS, said on Thursday the agency could not provide further details for security reasons.
Nearly $442 billion in trade flowed through Texas ports of entry in 2021, according to the Texas Center for Border Economic and Enterprise Development at Texas A&M International University in Laredo. Abbott’s new directive raises concerns for truckers and others in the logistics business who depend on that commerce.
Jerry Maldonado, president of the Laredo Motor Carriers Association, said his group is monitoring the impact and would stay engaged with state officials to limit harm to the trucking industry.
Laredo is the top inland port along the U.S.-Mexico border and relies heavily on truck crossings for its economy. The city has 656 trucking and transportation companies, according to the Laredo Economic Development Corporation.
Maldonado said any delays would harm individual truckers.
“Will it affect us? Yes,” he said. “We feel it will add more to our current delays we already have.”
Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz said through a spokesperson he is waiting for more details on Abbott’s plan before making public comments.
But while local officials wait to see the directive’s impact, U.S.-Mexico experts warn that it could lead to catastrophic results rippling through the rest of the country’s already lagging economy.
“The governor underestimates how long it takes to inspect a single truck,” said Tony Payan, director of the Center for the United States and Mexico at the Baker Institute at Rice University.
Doing a full inspection of a truck could take hours to unload and reload, he said. And with thousands of trucks crossing the border every day, that could lead to significant delays in the movement of goods and commodities.
“You will affect many of these trucks and truck companies that expect to get their goods to a certain point at a certain time and in certain conditions,” Payan said. “That cannot but add to the already difficult conditions businesses are already operating in due to the pandemic. It’s certainly not going to make things better — it’s only going to make things worse.”
He criticized the approach of using troopers to inspect trucks that had already been cleared by federal inspectors as duplicative and inefficient and said Abbott was “playing politics” to activate his base in an election year.
A better approach, Payan said, would be to work in conjunction with Department of Homeland Security agents to assist in the inspections at the ports of entry and cut down on duplications.
In McAllen, Villalobos said he’s still waiting to see how things play out and remains in touch with Abbott, who has been responsive to his city’s needs as the number of migrants at the border has increased. But he remains worried about the potential economic impact to his region.
“My main concern is right off the bat, what’s going to happen if it clogs up?” he said. “We’ll start losing jobs, start losing — hopefully not companies. That’s something that’s very concerning.”
Disclosure: Rice University and Texas A&M International University have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
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