(UPDATED, April 3) With dire implications for produce imports, President Trump has threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border to stop illegal crossings escalating from Mexico.
On March 30, Trump tweeted: “Mexico must use its very strong immigration laws to stop the many thousands of people trying to get into the USA. Our detention areas are maxed out & we will take no more illegals. Next step is to close the Border! This will also help us with stopping the Drug flow from Mexico!”
Saying the agency faces an “unprecedented humanitarian and border security crisis,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said in a news release March 27 that CBP is on pace to record more than 100,000 apprehensions for the month of March. It would be the highest monthly total in a decade, he said.
Up to 750 Customs and Border Protection officers from ports of entry along the Southwest border will soon be supporting Border Patrol with care and custody of migrants, slowing the processing of people and product at ports of entry, according to the agency.
“This shifting of resources and personnel will have a detrimental impact at all Southwest border ports of entry,” CBP said in the release. “CBP will have to close lanes, resulting in increased wait times for commercial shipments and travelers.”
Following the CBP notice, the United Fresh Produce Association released a statement urging the Trump administration to reconsider interruptions to cross-border trade, and that any closure would harm growers, distributors, retailers, restaurants and consumers.
“The solution to our immigration problems is not closing the border or slowing commercial traffic, but for Congress and the administration to work together on real immigration reform,” according to United Fresh. “That is why our association continues to call upon our nation’s leaders to get on with sensible reform that ensures a legal workforce for agriculture together with a functional border.”
The Washington Post's March 31 story “Trump White House presses threat to close U.S.-Mexico border this week” quoted Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, about the potential impact of the threatened border closing on the fresh produce industry.
Jungmeyer told the Post that produce prices would rise “incredibly fast” and layoffs could hit the industry in less than a week.
Armando Goncalvez, supervisory program manager for Customs and Border Protection at the Tucson field office, told Nogales produce operators in a trade bulletin March 29 that March 31 will be the last day of Sunday service for commercial truck processing at the port of Nogales at the Mariposa Commercial Facility until further notice.
Jungmeyer confirmed in an April 1 e-mail that Customs and Border Protection officials have told the Nogales trade they won’t operate on Sunday.
While there are no current unusual delays at the border, Jungmeyer said that by April 7 watermelon harvest will be increasing and loads could start piling up in Mexico. Mexican grape volume is several weeks away.
“Some companies rely on seven-day deliveries to keep harvest crews going, to keep orders fulfilled on the U.S. side,” Jungmeyer said.
Goncalvez of Customs and Border Protection said that truck traffic in Nogales the past two Sundays was quite low and he thinks the industry can adjust. One approach, he said, could be sending more volume to arrive in the morning hours of 8-10:30 a.m. when volume is typically lighter.
“The resources (that were) used on Sunday are better used to perhaps provide a half an hour or an hour in the middle of the week when you have more traffic,” he said.
Weekday volume averages about 1,600 to 1,800 trucks per day, he said. He said the agency is working with produce orgs, grape exporters and others to monitor wait times and traffic.
“At the end of the day, you have to manage your resources.”