By early November, the chances for 2013 action on immigration reform in the U.S. House of Representatives appeared to be zero.
However, the matter remains vital for Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, which vowed to continue pursuing lawmakers in the coming year.
“One thing attached to immigration reform legislation that affects us at the border is improved staffing for ports of entry,” said Lance Jungmeyer, president of Nogales, Ariz.-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.
“That’s something all the Southwest border states really need, but especially here in Nogales, where we have a port of entry that’s being reconfigured and as of next year will be fully done,” he said.
Upgrades to the Nogales port are projected to be complete by May or June.
“It’s been delayed before, but when it’s done and trucks have to offload for agricultural inspection, there will be plenty of space for it,” Jungmeyer said. “They can unload way more than before and just do the whole thing more efficiently.”
The port already has seen an increase in the number of commercial lanes from four to eight. Remaining issues include the need for more federal staffing and concerns about infrastructure on the Mexico side.
“We’re trying to see how we can convince legislators that they need to be supporting legislation that would include more customs officers,” Jungmeyer said. “If they don’t have enough, it’s kind of like if you go to Wal-Mart and they have 20 lanes but only four are open.”
On the Mexico side, the trade group would like to see two or three more lanes added to the last kilometer or so of road leading up to the border.
“With eight commercial lanes on the U.S. side, if you don’t have enough lanes feeding into that, you still have a bottleneck,” he said.
FPAA representatives have made a few trips to Mexico City to make their case to Mexican officials about this and other matters of border infrastructure.
Nogales is less directly involved in the labor issues attached to immigration reform, but it still has a stake.
“If there’s a big program to allow guest workers, those workers are going to be processed somewhere, and it’s going to be at the ports of entry where everyone else crosses,” Jungmeyer said. “That makes the addition of customs officers even more necessary. There’s got to be somebody there to review the paperwork and be sure everyone is OK.”
Apart from inaction on immigration, FPAA had concerns about lingering effects from the government shutdown.
“It may have left some hangovers,” Jungmeyer said Nov. 6. “We’re getting a few reports that from FDA’s standpoint, microbiological testing has an estimated completion time of 10 days instead of three to five.
"We hope that’s just an anomaly. When those items are being tested, the whole lot has to be held at the border and you can’t ship it. So if it’s really taking 10 days to get your results back, you might as well just throw the produce away.”