Texas maintains most truck inspections despite border collapse

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday resisted mounting pressure over his new border policy that has blocked trucks bound for the U.S. and closed some of the world’s busiest trade bridges, like the Mexican government, businesses and even some allies urge him to give way.

The two-time Republican governor, who has ordered commercial trucks from Mexico to undergo additional inspections as part of a battle with President Joe Biden’s administration over immigration, has refused to reverse course entirely as traffic remains tangled.

The standoff has prompted warnings from trade groups and experts that US grocery shoppers could soon notice shelf shortages and higher prices if normal truck traffic doesn’t resume.

Abbott announced Wednesday that he would halt inspections at a bridge in Laredo after reaching an agreement with the governor of neighboring Mexico’s Nuevo Leon. But some of the most dramatic truck backups and bridge closures occurred elsewhere along Texas’ 1,200-mile border.

“I understand the concerns that companies have when trying to get product across the border,” Abbott said during a visit to Laredo. “But I also know the frustration of my fellow Texas people and my fellow Americans caused by the Biden administration’s failure to secure our border.”

Abbott said incoming commercial trucks elsewhere continue to be subject to thorough inspections by state troops until leaders of Mexico’s three other neighboring states reach agreements with Texas on safety. He did not specify what these measures must include.

At the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge, where more product crosses than any other land port in the US, truckers protesting Abbott’s order had effectively closed the bridge since Monday. But on Wednesday afternoon, US Customs and Border Protection officials said protests had ended and trade had resumed.

Nuevo Leon Gov. Samuel García joined Abbott in Laredo, where backups on the Colombia Solidarity Bridge stretched for three hours or more. Garcia said Nuevo Leon will begin checkpoints to assure Abbott they “wouldn’t have any problems.”

Abbott said he hopes other Mexican states will follow soon, saying those states have been in touch with his office. On Tuesday, the governors of Coahuila and Tamaulipas sent a letter to Abbott calling the inspections overzealous.

“These policies will ultimately increase consumer costs in a market that has been inflated for 40 years — holding the border hostage is not the answer,” the letter reads.

The slowdown 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.

In addition to the inspections, Abbott also said Texas will offer migrants bus rides to Washington, DC to show his frustration with the Biden administration and Congress. Hours before the Laredo press conference, Abbott announced that the first bus carrying 24 migrants had arrived in Washington.

In the last week of March, border guards said the border was being crossed more than 7,100 times a day on average.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki called Abbott’s order “unnecessary and redundant.” Trucks are inspected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers entering the country, and while Texas police officers have previously conducted additional inspections on some vehicles, local officials and business owners say officers have never stopped any truck until now.

According to the Mexican government, cross-border traffic has dropped to a third of the normal level since the controls began. Mexico is a major supplier of fresh vegetables to the US, and importers say wait times and the diversion of trucks to other bridges as far north as Arizona have spoiled some shipments of produce.

The escalating pressure on Abbott, who is running for re-election in November, is coming from his supporters and members of his own party.

The Texas Trucking Association, which supports Abbott, said the current situation “is unsustainable.”

John Esparza, the association’s president, said he supports attempts to remedy the situation with Mexico’s governors. But he said if talks drag on, congestion could overwhelm bridges where inspections are no longer conducted through Texas.

“The longer this goes on, the more the impact will be felt across the country,” Esparza said. “It’s like a catastrophe.”

The slowdown has 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.

Critics question how the inspections will meet Abbott’s goal of stemming the flow of migrants and drugs. When asked which officers showed up for their truck inspections, Abbott referred the question to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

As of Monday, the agency said it had inspected more than 3,400 commercial vehicles 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.

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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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This story has been corrected to show Customs and Border Protection.

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