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Border shutdown would cause significant harm to produce industry

April Fools' Day for Luis Bazan seemed unreal. But it was by no means a joke.

On the preceding Friday — March 29 — President Donald Trump threatened to shut down trade from Mexico as part of his effort to stop illegal immigration from Mexico.2018-2-1-1732-Luis-Bazan-Pharr-IntlBridgeLuis Bazan stands at the toll booth of the Pharr International Bridge.

At least in Bazan’s case, as the bridge director of the Pharr International Bridge, there is little-to-no connection between pedestrian immigrants — illegal or otherwise — and international trade. The Pharr Bridge, which is 3.2 miles long, has no pedestrian traffic.

Bazan’s April 1 frustration that there is not a connection between trade and immigration, and yet a broad-sweeping trade shutdown would cost a daily Mexican import trade loss of $60 million in goods-not-traded through Pharr. Bazan said that value is calculated with a typical value of $37,000 to $40,000 per truckload entering from Mexico across the Pharr Bridge.

Bazan said 2018 was the second consecutive year for Pharr to be the nation’s largest land port of entry for produce. “We’re No. 1 in avocados and No. 2 in berries,” Bazan said.

But he said the Laredo Field Office, which handles border personnel for the Rio Grande Valley, on April 1 was preparing — including shifting personnel — should dramatic events occur.

Bazan was hopeful that the Mexican border in Pharr — and all along the border — wouldn’t actually be closed. And he hoped that the whole matter would be gone by the end of this week. “You have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” he said.

On March 27, 2019, U.S. Customs & Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan stated that CBP will be reassigning up to 750 CBP officers from ports of entry along the southern border to assist U.S. Border Patrol with the processing of migrant crossings along the border. Because of the large reassignment of CBP officers, importers and exporters should expect to see “a slowdown in the processing of trade” along the U.S.-Mexico border for an unspecified period. CBP will be forced to close some processing lanes, potentially in the ports of El Paso, Laredo, Tucson and San Diego. In addition, officials at the port in Nogales, AZ, have announced closing commercial border traffic on Sundays.

In a statement, the United Fresh Produce Association said, "These steps will cause significant harm to growers, wholesale distributors, transportation companies, grocery stores, restaurants and most importantly, U.S. consumers. On behalf of the fresh produce industry and the broad cross-section of members we represent, we urge the administration to reconsider these steps that would profoundly interrupt our ability to bring fresh, healthy produce to all Americans. If these actions are implemented, the administration will cause millions in economic losses while increasing costs to consumers across North America.

Fresh fruit and vegetables are the most perishable and sensitive to timely inspection and delivery of any farm products. Disruptions of weeks, days or even hours cut supply chains meaning lost wages and lost revenues. Already, inspection delays are being felt from El Paso to San Diego costing farmers, truck drivers and companies of all sizes. In fact the San Diego Association of Governments and California Department of Transportation have indicated that even an extra 15 minutes of wait time could generate as much as $1 billion in lost productivity and 134,000 lost in jobs annually.

United said, "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. 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."