EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – City officials are warning residents and border industry to expect delays, as the federal government plans to redeploy customs officers to migrant processing duties in the next few days.
This could slow down cargo inspections at the international bridges between El Paso and Juarez and affect travel times for motorists and pedestrians who commute between the two cities, city officials said.
The pending move by U.S. Customs and Border Protection will coincide with the reopening of at least one U.S. port of entry to asylum-seekers – who for the past few years have been turned away due to the Title 42 public health policy.
“We have been told that, as early as today, they’re going to start processing at the border. They will be processing right at the bridges. So, with that they are going to relocate all available (customs) officers over to the Paso del Norte bridge so they can start doing processing right there,” El Paso Deputy City Manager Mario D’Agostino told reporters on a Zoom call Tuesday. “What that’s going to do is pull the resources they currently have at other bridges to do cargo checks, pull them away from there. So, we will see a delay, a possible delay in cargo that is going through.”
KTSM reached out to CBP for further details on how they plan to deal with asylum seekers in the future and is awaiting a response. A federal official said that, as of now, the border remains closed.
D’Agostino said eligible migrants would start being released at the port of entry once their processing is done.
As of now, migrants approaching U.S. ports of entry are being turned away by CBP officers in the middle of the international bridge. The migrants then walk over to the Rio Grande, cross illegally into the U.S. side and then make their case to waiting Border Patrol agents.
Several hundred migrants could be seen on Tuesday waiting to board buses on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande to the CBP processing station.
The last time the U.S. allowed migrants to apply for asylum at the Paso del Norte Port of Entry, Mexican officials had to scramble to control the crowds that gathered on their side of the border. The Chihuahua Population Council took over the process after widespread reports of migrants waiting overnight in the open, people cutting in line and shady characters selling “numbers” to those coming to line up.
Border Report contacted Mexican officials on Tuesday about the pending move by CBP, but they also said they were unaware of the plan.
“From a humanitarian point of view, it sounds like a good idea,” said Santiago Gonzalez Reyes, director of Juarez’s Human Rights Office, which has been assisting migrants at the Kiki Romero gym.
But Thor Salayandia, president of the Juarez Chamber of Industry, expressed concern about delays in the movement of assembled components from Juarez factories to their parent companies in the United States. He also said having less customs officers at inspection booths during the busy holiday shopping season could be a problem.
“If lines become longer, if it takes us more time to get across, that is going to be a problem,” he said.
Salayandia said El Paso and Juarez have spent unbudgeted resources in the past few years dealing with migrant surges. He said any immigration-related policies enacted by the U.S. affect Mexican border residents. He referenced Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s secondary roadside inspections at the border as an example of this.
“Juarez industry for a long time has been lobbying for more expeditious cargo inspections to maintain competitiveness,” he said. “We are privileged to have an alternate truck crossing at Santa Teresa, New Mexico, but the point is to modernize our existing infrastructure, to safeguard competitive advantages for the region. We cannot take a step back and have our cargo stuck at the border.”
‘Soft-sided’ facility proposed to deal with migrant surge
For the past few days, El Paso has been dealing with a new spike in migrant apprehensions ahead of the anticipated end of the federal government’s Title 42 public health policy that allows border agents to quickly expel ineligible migrants.
The surge has prompted federal officials to release around 1,000 migrants to the streets of El Paso since Saturday. Some of them have spent several hours in the cold after sunset.
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, said she has proposed to the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee funding to establish a “soft-sided” facility where migrants can spend a night or two before securing transportation out of El Paso.
“I’ve shared those photos with appropriators, those videos and have talked about [….] making sure there is a federally operated emergency shelter. Maybe a soft-sided site where folks are not in custody but have the ability to wait for a short amount of time,” Escobar said in a Tuesday Zoom call with reporters. “I’ve been floating that idea for a while and while there didn’t seem to be an appetite before, my conversation last night with the chairwoman [….] she was very moved by the photos and wanted to do everything possible to find a viable alternative.”