US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is rushing to get Customs agents back in position at clogged Southwest border truck crossings, but a surge in pre-Easter holiday manufactured goods and produce is backing up freight operations that have been plagued with delays all April.
Private vehicle lanes at the Pharr, Texas, truck border crossing were closed Tuesday to deal with freight congestion, as more than 900 trucks waited in line to enter the United States, C.H. Robinson Worldwide said in an April 16 advisory. Closures may continue into next week.
About 300 Customs officers are being deployed to the Southwest border from other parts of the country to bring all crossings back to about 65 percent of original staffing, CBP told C.H. Robinson Tuesday. The agency is setting up a rotation pool of 545 officers to keep lanes open.
“CBP provided industry some optimism that agents may begin to return to their home ports of entry and reduce wait times,” C.H. Robinson said. “However, this is one of the busiest weeks of the year along the border as families and goods cross in higher volumes for Holy Week.”
C.H. Robinson, the largest US freight broker, has Customs brokerage operations at the largest truck crossing points along the US-Mexico border — from Otay Mesa in San Diego, California, to Hidalgo-Pharr, Texas — and releases advisories on border conditions daily.
Freight congestion along the border has shifted, rather than dissipated, as CBP reallocates resources and shippers try to determine which routes from Mexico into the United States will get goods to customers fastest, said Jason Craig, director of government affairs for C.H. Robinson.
“In the beginning, the closest place agents could be reassigned from was Laredo, and we saw impacts right away,” Craig told JOC.com. “We saw the impact on Pharr and Otay Mesa a little later.” He believes Laredo, the largest US truck border crossing, will be a priority for CBP.
“Laredo is by far the biggest truck crossing by volume. On the border, everything starts in Laredo,” Craig said. In its latest advisory, C.H. Robinson said 60 of the 300 Customs agents that had been reassigned in the initial weeks of the crisis have already returned to duty in Laredo.
Wait times remain high at most Southwest US ports of entry, however, with no indication of when operations will return to normal levels. By mid-morning Wednesday, 61 of 88 truck border crossing lanes were open, with delays averaging 72 minutes, according to CBP data.
Tuesday afternoon, delays in standard truck lanes averaged 99 minutes at 65 open border crossings. Delays in Free and Secure Trade (FAST) lanes averaged 58 minutes Wednesday morning and 59 minutes Tuesday afternoon, with longer delays in Pharr and Otay Mesa.
Delays are hard to measure, and wait times are often underreported, Craig said, because the current lines in US-bound truck lanes exceed historical standards. “Historically, we’ve seen lines extend a certain distance. There’s lack of experience with lines this length,” which distorts estimates, he said.
The longest wait times for US-bound trucks Wednesday, as reported by CBP, were at Otay Mesa and Brownsville, both 180 minutes. Delays of 120 minutes were reported at El Paso and Pharr, Texas. Passenger vehicle lanes on the Pharr bridge remained closed.
“Lines were long yesterday and today,” Craig said Wednesday. “There will be decreased hours tomorrow [Thursday] and Friday. This is obviously a week of disruption. We’ll get a better sense late next week whether this situation will begin to get better or continue.”