( File photo )

With the Trump administration shifting some federal employees away from the border to deal with increased illegal immigration, commercial shipments of produce from Mexico are taking longer to cross into the U.S.

Customs and Border Protection officials have warned that processing commercial trucks will be slowed by a shifting of agency resources, and increased volumes of Mexican grapes and watermelon in the weeks ahead could test the agency’s ability to deal with both illegal immigration and commercial fresh produce traffic.

Industry sources noted delays, but said commercial produce trucks were making it through within a few hours at border crossings.

Average crossing times in Nogales have about doubled, from about 45 minutes to 90 minutes, said Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, Nogales, Ariz. 

“While this may not seem like much, when you consider that over 1,000 trucks may cross in a day, this puts significant strain on the supply chain,” he said.

Jungmeyer said drayage trucks — U.S. trucks that haul trailers of Mexican produce across the border when Mexican trucks are not certified to enter the U.S. — may not be able to cross as many times as they are used to. Drayage trucks try to cross two to three trailers per day. If the first trailer is delayed by 45 minutes, the second trailer is delayed by 90 minutes and that adds up, he said.

Chris Henderson, sales representative for Warren Produce Co., Edinburg, Texas, said the company imports Hispanic produce and watermelon from Mexico through the Pharr/Hidalgo bridge port and also the port at Progreso, Texas. 

“Compound normal traffic with being a little short-handed, it really causes a disruption,” he said.

Holy Week in Mexico the week of April 15 could cause market fluctuations because many farm workers take time off.

Eliseo Garcia, compliance specialist with Mayer Custom House Broker, Nogales, said April 11 that crossings of Mexican produce haven’t had a lot of issues in the prior two weeks. 

“Prior to that, crossings were really slow but we haven’t really been affected by the redeployment of the officers to the different areas,” he said, noting that Nogales didn’t lose any of its officers.

The only big change, he said, was that Customs and Border Protection officials originally planned to open on Sundays to process commercial trucks from the end of March to the end of May. However, they canceled Sunday service after two weeks, he said.

Longest wait times at the border — currently running two or three hours — typically occur between noon and 3 p.m. for Mexican produce crossing into the U.S. and 3-5 p.m. for U.S. trucks headed into Mexico.

Hector Suarez, president of Nogales-based Suarez Brokerage Co., said commercial truck wait times on April 11 were eight to ten hours in Otay Mesa, Calif., compared with a normal two to three-hour wait.

Wait times for produce trucks at the port of McAllen in Texas were five to six hours, up from a normal two to three-hour wait. In Nogales, normal wait times of two to four hours have increased to four to six hours, Saurez said.

On April 10, a government website reported a 130-minute delay from commercial trucks at the Pharr (Texas) International Bridge late that afternoon, a 240-minute delay in Laredo, and a 55-minute delay at Nogales. P