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CBP to close cargo lanes at El Paso’s Bridge of the Americas

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Vic Kolenc and

Aaron Martinez, El Paso Times
Published 11:21 a.m. MT April 3, 2019 | Updated 3:11 p.m. MT April 3, 2019

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CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan says border region is at “breaking point” because of influx of migrants from Central America.
Mark R Lambie, El Paso Times

Commercial trucks crossing at one of El Paso’s bridges will be forced to find another route on Saturdays, according to a notice sent by federal officials that cited the reassignment of officers to assist with the flow of migrants into the country. 

The closing is expected to worsen growing bridge crossing times for trucks carrying parts and products being shipped from Juárez factories to El Paso and other cities across the United States, according to leaders in the manufacturing industry.

“I’ve never seen this happen to this level,” said David Garcia, director of operations and a partner at Specialized Harness Products, an El Paso company that makes wire harnesses at its Juárez factory for construction and recreational vehicles.

Garcia said the company’s trucks have waited up to 12 hours to cross the border since the Trump administration announced that it would reassign at least 750 Customs and Border Protection officers away from the ports of entry to help with processing migrant families. The latest decision to close the cargo lanes and the lot at the Bridge of the Americas will only make matters worse, he said. 

“It’s ridiculous what this is doing to business and industry,” Garcia said.

Notice of lane closures at Bridge of the Americas port of entry

In a trade information notice dated Wednesday, April 3, Beverly Good, El Paso port director for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, announced that cargo lanes at the Bridge of the Americas would be closed on Saturdays until further notice. The closures begin this weekend.

The federal government’s notice pointed to U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan’s comments in El Paso last week.

During the news conference, McAleenan announced that CBP officers currently at the ports of entry would be reassigned to help with processing migrant families. The decision has led to longer wait times and concerns about security at the ports of entry. 

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The Bridge of the Americas, in the center of the El Paso-Juárez trade corridor, is one of three international bridges in the area with commercial cargo crossing lanes.  

The increasing wait times to get through commercial cargo inspection lanes at the bridge has created a nightmare for Specialized Harness Products, which has trucks that are waiting four to five times longer than usual to cross the border.

More: ‘We could see the cartels say: This is an opportunity’: Shifting CBP officers could leave ports vulnerable

The company brings parts from Mexico to its El Paso warehouse then ships to customers’ plants mostly in the Midwest. It normally ships its products on weekdays, but, because of the longer bridge wait times, it began shipping Saturday.

“When we fall behind” with shipments, “we have to ship every day until we catch up,” Garcia said.

The recent closure means that weekends also will become more difficult, Garcia said.

“If we miss delivery dates, customers will have to try to get parts” from another company, Garcia said.

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Options do not lessen challenges of fewer officers at ports of entry

CBP spokesman Roger Maier said the Ysleta port of entry, on the far East Side of the El Paso-Juárez trade corridor, will continue to be open eight hours to commercial traffic Saturdays.

The Santa Teresa, N.M., port of entry, near El Paso’s far West Side, remains open four hours on Saturdays, he said. 

Maier said that CBP officials met with the El Paso-area trade community Tuesday to discuss the closure at the Bridge of the Americas, but he directed all other questions to previous remarks by McAleenan.

On Friday, one of  Specialized Harness Products’ trucks tried to cross at the Santa Teresa, N.M., port of entry because of the long wait at the Bridge of the Americas. But Garcia said the wait was worse, so the truck went back to the Juárez factory.  

More: DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen visits El Paso amid threats of Trump border crossing closings.

Not being able to get parts shipped out quickly causes production to slow down at Specialized Harness Products’ Juárez plant, which does not store the parts it produces. Garcia said that causes delays in getting parts to its customers.

“Unfortunately, if this continues, we may have to stop an assembly line,” Garcia said.

That would cause problems with the product being produced by that line, he said.

Then, to catch up on production, the company would have to pay overtime, which increases costs, Garcia said.

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Aaron Martinez may be reached at 546-6249; aamartinez@elpasotimes.com; @AMartinez31 on Twitter.

Vic Kolenc may be reached at 546-6421; vkolenc@elpasotimes.com@vickolenc on Twitter.

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