Border wait times — and losses associated with the delays — have the potential to escalate in coming years for trade between the U.S. and Mexico.
Given the backdrop of sequestration budget cuts and the prospect for ramped-up immigration enforcement at the border, wait times for people and cargo at the border have the potential to grow from already significant levels, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agriculture Service report.
The Mariposa port of entry in Nogales, Ariz., is the busiest port of entry for winter vegetables and can handle up to 1,600 trucks per day, according to the USDA report.
Still, delays at the border have taken a toll.
From 2008 cost levels from border wait time of $5.8 billion, the report, by Accenture Analytics, estimated the cost of border wait times to increase to $12 billion a year, and cost 54,000 U.S. jobs by 2017. While trade sources in Nogales have said the effect of sequestration on border crossings has generally been limited, the USDA report said Colleen Kelley, the head of the union representing Customs and Border Protection Officers has said that employees may have to serve up to 14 unpaid furlough days between the start of the cuts in March through September.
The Mariposa port of entry is investing $250 million into improved infrastructure but the USDA report said the sequestration cuts may result in staffing levels insufficient to man the new lanes being created.
Added lanes for commercial shipments at Mariposa are expected to shorten wait times for produce loads next season, said Alberto Maldonado, general manager of Apache Produce, Nogales, Ariz.. Typical wait times for commercial shipments of winter vegetables vary between one and six hours, he said.
“They weren’t finished with the (new) lanes last year so we couldn’t use them,” Maldonado said.
Trucks selected for extra inspection or 100% unloading face the longest wait times, he said.
Because of the way produce is shipped from Sonora and Sinaloa, Maldonado said many shippers cross loads during the night, and Customs and Border Patrol officials sometimes complain that their facility is underused in the morning hours.
“In the morning they open at 8 a.m. and sometimes they don’t cross anything until noon,” he said.
Maldonado said the key for Mariposa is have enough inspectors.
“Hopefully one of these days we can solve that,” he said.
Relief could be dramatic if staffing levels increase.
The USDA FAS report said a recent study that said adding just one Customs and Border Patrol staff at 33 ports of entry could boost the U.S. economy by $65 million.
The study, conducted by the National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events at the University of Southern California, measured the affects of adding or taking away one CBP staff (working an 8-hour workday, 153 days a year), at 17 major passenger land crossing port of entries, 12 major freight crossing port of entries and four major passenger airport port of entries.
The study concluded that the increasing port of entry staffing by 33 (one per port) added $65.8 million in gross domestic product, including an addition of 1,094 annual jobs. In contrast, removing 33 staff from ports of entry would cost the U.S. economy $33 million.