John C. Moritz
Democrat Beto O’Rourke jumped on reports that Gov. Greg Abbott’s inspection policy for all commercial trucks entering Texas from Mexico is causing huge commercial backlogs and said Tuesday the two-term Republican “killing Texas businesses and economy”.
“It’s going to be very bad for the Texas economy. It’s going to be very bad for the national economy,” O’Rourke said at a news conference at an empty cold storage facility in the border community of Pharr.
The former congressman from El Paso who will face Abbott in the November election was joined by two South Texans who said their livelihoods were upended as trucks seeking to bring in goods and manufactured goods in Texas waited in the platforms until 4 p.m. while each truck waited for a 45-minute inspection.
Abbott last week ordered the inspections, saying they were necessary to help control the influx of illegal immigrants and drug smuggling into Texas.
But the inspections carried out by soldiers from the Texas Department of Public Safety focus mainly on the technical control of vehicles and not on their cargo. It is up to federal agents to examine the contents of the trucks, which usually takes place at checkpoints miles from the Rio Grande.
Abbott told a news conference in South Texas last week that his recent actions were necessary because of what he described as President Joe Biden’s administration’s failure to control the southern border. .
Joe Arevalo, a customs broker who owns the warehouse where O’Rourke hosted his event, said Abbott’s order has created “a domino effect of angry drivers” who are unable to efficiently bring goods to US markets which are still struggling with supply chain issues related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are living a nightmare,” Arevalo said.
Polo Chow, whose trucking company brings parts to Toyota Motor Manufacturing’s San Antonio plant, said security inspections play no role in border security.
“It doesn’t improve security, it doesn’t improve (the effort to control) illegal immigrants,” Chow said. “It does not improve the war on drugs.”
After:Texas inspections of cross-border commercial traffic stifle international trade
Meanwhile, Republican Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller sent a letter to Abbott urging him to scuttle the policy “on behalf of the people of Texas and the United States.”
In an interview with the USA TODAY Network afterwards, Miller was more blunt.
“I’ll just say it, it’s just political theater,” he said. “There are 20,000 trucks a day going through Laredo (before the policy). Now we’re going to get about 700 a day. It’s really backfired. It’s really compounded the problem.”
O’Rourke, who since even before officially entering the 2022 gubernatorial race has been targeted by Abbott’s campaign as pro-‘open borders’, used the delays caused by inspections as a way to seize the offensive on a crucial issue.
The former three-term congressman sought to tie the safeguards to rising prices and limited supplies shoppers are seeing in Texas retail stores.
“When you see these trucks lined up miles deep in Mexico, what you see is inflation, what you see is higher prices at the grocery store, and what you see, it’s more supply chain issues,” O’Rourke says. “We are calling on Greg Abbott to end this policy today.”
In a statement, Abbott’s campaign spokesman Mark Miner did not respond to criticism from O’Rourke, border business leaders and labor groups about the economic ripple effect of the long delays caused by inspections.
Instead, Miner sought to shift the blame to Biden, a Democrat who backed out of the hard-line approach to immigration under the Republican Trump administration.
“Beto O’Rourke is completely out of touch with the border crisis that his friend President Biden has created,” Miner said. “Safety inspections keep unsafe vehicles and drivers off Texas roads and prevent cartels from continuing to distribute deadly drugs like fentanyl in Texas communities.”
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But the head of an association of trade groups that transports agricultural products to the United States through Texas from Mexico said the inspections were strangling cross-border trade and would likely lead to empty shelves at grocery stores.
“Last night, commercial trucks crossing Pharr International Bridges were on a mile-long line that took until nearly 2 a.m. this morning to clear the bridge,” said Dante L. Galeazzi, president. of the Texas International Produce Association, in a letter to Abbott on Monday. “Today the line is at a standstill as trucks pull out of the import batch. Many carriers and brokers are reporting hours of downtime.
“Border security is an important part of this region,” he added, “but so is commerce that keeps millions of Texans employed.”
Clyde Barrow, chair of the political science department at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said Abbott’s new policy could backfire on a constituency the Republican governor is seeking to wrest from Democrats.
“It has a negative impact on the local economy because, as you know, the valley economy is very dependent on cross-border traffic,” Barrow said.
He said while many of Abbott’s tough border initiatives tend to play well in communities well north of the Rio Grande, voters in southern Texas are often mixed on the issue.
“For me, the paradox has always been that the further you get from the border, the more this stuff seems to play in a positive light,” Barrow said. “It’s like the less people know about what’s really going on at the border, the more they support these policies. But here, in general, they’re not very popular.
“People are interested to see how the Republican Party is going to fare here, because it’s clearly skyrocketing to some degree.”
John C. Moritz covers Texas government and politics for the USA Today Network in Austin. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JohnnieMo.