Border bottleneck spurs huge delays for truckers

By Michael Hirtzer and Thomas Black
Bloomberg News
View Comments
Wait times have grown for truckers crossing the border with the United States in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

The southern border isn’t closed, but it’s already a mess for trucks hauling goods from Mexico to the U.S., snarling traffic at some of the busiest frontier crossings in the world.

A week of heated threats from Donald Trump to “close” the border means Mexican companies are rushing to get as much cargo into the U.S. as they can, in case of a shutdown. Meanwhile, as many as 750 U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers were reassigned to border patrol sectors in late March, limiting the personnel needed to allow for the flow of goods from south to north.

As a result, wait times to cross the border have soared and can be as many as 10 hours longer than usual.

The Trump administration has reassigned so many inspectors from U.S.-Mexico border crossings that it has caused huge traffic backups for truckers who are waiting in line for hours and in some case days to get shipments to the U.S.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents car manufacturers in Washington, warned that any disruption resulting from a border slowdown will have a cascading effect — harming U.S. consumers and threatening American jobs and investment.

“The auto sector — and the 10 million jobs it supports — relies upon the North American supply chain and-cross border commerce to remain globally competitive,” it said. “In some instances, auto parts make several border crossings before being integrated into a vehicle’s final assembly.

Municipal workers manage portable toilets near a line to enter the U.S. at a border crossing in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on April 5. The city has brought in the toilets, and an engine oil company hired models to hand out burritos and bottled water to idled drivers.

With trucks getting stuck at the border, Mexican companies are being forced to paying more to bring in additional vehicles for loading shipments. While the U.S. has yet to see meaningful shortages in goods from Mexico, prices for at least one import — avocados — have soared amid worries over a border closure. Buyers of berries, limes and asparagus are making plans to limit potential fallout from such a shutdown.

“The delays have doubled, tripled, quadrupled — it’s not an exact science,” said Jaime Castaneda, vice president for trade policy at the U.S. Dairy Export Council. Lane closures and weekend shutdowns are adding to delays, he said.

The wait times are especially long in El Paso, Laredo and the San Diego area, said Ben Enriquez, senior vice president of Mexico for Transplace, a logistics service provider. In El Paso, it’s taking as long as 12 hours to cross into the U.S., up from about 1 to 2 hours on a normal day, he said.

“The shippers try to push as much freight as possible and, at the same time, you have fewer officers” from U.S. Customs, Enriquez said. “So, it’s not a good combination.”

Trucks wait to cross the border with the U.S. in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Tuesday, April 9, 2019.

The delays are tying up trucks at the border that usually head back south with a load and then are ready to pick up freight again at factories in the interior of Mexico. That’s causing Mexican companies to pay extra to bring in empty trucks to load those goods, he said.

So far, the delays have been primarily for cargoes moving north and aren’t yet impacting southbound shipments of U.S. goods like meat and dairy. Mexico is the top buyer of American pork.

“Obviously, we want the ports of entry running smoothly,” said Joe Schuele, vice president of the U.S. Meat Export Federation. 

A Customs and Border Protection mobile app suggested the bottlenecks may have eased by Tuesday. The wait time for truckers was estimated at three hours in San Diego, 2<AF>1/2<XA> hours in El Paso and two hours in Laredo. Still, truckers said wait times have lengthened considerably since the reassignments.

“This all started about two weeks ago with Trump,” said driver Arturo Menendez, 44, who first entered the line at 4 a.m. Friday with his tractor-trailer full of cardboard used in boxes for U.S.-made products like Toro lawn mowers.

Avila, who is also the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce’s vice president for international affairs, said the delays could encourage more companies to move to Asia.

“Now we’re discouraging overseas production,” she said. “We’re cutting out the American manufacturer or the Mexican manufacturer that employs U.S. workers.”

Detroit News Staff Writer Keith Laing and Associated Press contributed.

View Comments