By PAUL J. WEBER – Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday resisted mounting pressure to end inspections of trucks that have blocked the U.S.-Mexico border for days, securing miles of cargo and shipments of products have spoiled, and said he will not rescind his new policy on all bridges until there are more safety guarantees.
Abbott suspended inspections at an international bridge after announcing it was a security-enhancement deal with Nuevo Leon Gov. Samuel García, whose Mexican state is across the border from Laredo.
But the most dramatic backlogs of commercial trucks along Texas’ 1,200-mile border have occurred at other bridges that don’t share a border with Nuevo Leon. These include the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge, which has been effectively closed by trucker protests since Monday.
Abbott said he hopes other Mexican states will follow Nuevo Leon and make deals with Texas as well.
Pressure on Abbott had continued to mount, including from allies of the two-year governor.
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The Texas Trucking Association, which is backing Abbott for re-election, said the current situation “is unsustainable” as the delays delayed deliveries and threatened to empty store shelves.
The Mexican governors of Coahuila and Tamaulipas, both of which border Texas, also sent Abbott a letter calling the inspections overzealous and causing “devastation and economic pain” on both sides of the border.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — One of the busiest commercial ports on the U.S.-Mexico border remained effectively closed Wednesday as frustration and traffic growls grew over Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s order requiring additional inspections of commercial vehicles as part of the sprawling border of the Republicans called for security operations.
Since Monday, Mexican truckers have blocked the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge in protest after Abbott last week ordered state troopers to stop and inspect trucks coming into Texas. Unusually long backups — some lasting 12 hours or more — have been piling up elsewhere along the roughly 1,200-mile Texas border.
Mexico’s government said Abbott’s order is causing “serious damage” to trade and that cross-border traffic has plummeted to a third of normal levels. On Wednesday, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki called Abbott’s order “unnecessary and redundant.”
The shutdown is the result of an initiative Abbott said is necessary to stem human trafficking and the flow of drugs. Abbott ordered the inspections as part of “unprecedented action” he promised in response to the Biden administration’s winding-up of a public health bill restricting asylum-seekers in the name of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
But critics question how the inspections are meeting Abbott’s goal, while business owners and experts lament financial losses and US grocery shoppers warn they could find shortages as early as this week.
Frustration is also spreading among members of Abbott’s own party: Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, a Republican, called the inspections a “disastrous policy” that is forcing some trucks to divert hundreds of miles to Arizona.
“I’m describing it as a crisis because it’s not the normal way to do business,” said Hidalgo District Judge Richard Cortez, whose district includes the bridge in Pharr. “You’re talking billions of dollars. If you stop this process, many, many, many, many people will be affected.”
The shutdowns and slowdowns have sparked some of the biggest backlash yet from Abbott’s billion-dollar border operation, which the two-term governor has made the cornerstone of his administration. Texas has thousands of state police officers and members of the National Guard on the border and has turned jails into jails for migrants arrested for breaching the peace.
Abbott warned last week that inspections would “dramatically slow down” border traffic, but he hasn’t addressed the congestion or port closures since. The governor scheduled a press conference in Laredo for Wednesday afternoon.
In a video posted to Instagram, Nuevo Leon Gov. Samuel García said he plans to meet Abbott on Wednesday and reassure him that “he has no reason to worry about drugs or migration.” The video showed aerial footage of the Colombian port of entry, upriver from Nuevo Laredo, and images of Mexican authorities inspecting trucks. He said Mexico will introduce “specific checkpoints” on Thursday “to show that there is not a single supporter carrying either of the two issues that we know are worrying him.”
The disruptions at some of the world’s busiest international commercial 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 running against Abbott, said at a stop in Pharr on Tuesday that the inspections had done nothing to stem the flow of migrants and were making supply chain problems worse.
He was joined by Joe Arevalo, owner of Keystone Cold, a cold storage facility on the border. He said that although Texas police officers have always inspected some trucks crossing the border, “they have never, never, ever stopped an entire system or an entire supply chain.”
According to the National Freight Transportation Chamber, an estimated 3,000 trucks cross the Pharr Bridge on a typical day. The bridge is the largest land port for products such as green leafy vegetables imported into the United States
Mexico supplies about two-thirds of the products sold in Texas.
“We are living through a nightmare and already suffering a very delicate supply chain from the pandemic and trying to rebuild the business,” Arevalo said.
The additional inspections are being conducted by the Texas Department of Public Safety, which said it had inspected more than 3,400 commercial vehicles as of Monday and “out of service” more than 800 for violations, including defective brakes, tires and lights. It was not mentioned whether migrants or drugs were found during the checks.
Jerry Pacheco, executive director of the International Business Accelerator and president of the Border Industrial Association, said the protests cost businesses millions of dollars a day.
“It will affect all of us, all of us in the United States. Your car parts are delayed, your computer – if you ordered a Dell or HP tablet, they will be disrupted.
Ed Anderson, a professor at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, compared the disruptions to those caused by February’s truck blockade in Canada, which forced car plants on both sides of the border to shut down production or drive back.
Anderson said consumers would likely notice the effects by the end of this week, if not sooner.
“Either prices will go up or shelves will be low,” he said.
Associated Press Reporter Acacia Coronado. Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Mark Stevenson in Mexico City contributed to this report.
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