Farm and rail firms want US-Mexico borders reopened, closed over migrants

Dozens of major U.S. agricultural groups requested the government on Wednesday to reopen two rail crossings on the Texas-Mexico border in an effort to reopen trade routes closed due to increased migrant crossings, which they claim are incurring substantial export losses.

The growers, who represent corn, milk, rice, and soybean producers among others, said the crossings could be readily reopened in a sternly worded letter to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

“We estimate that nearly 1 million bushels of grain exports are potentially lost each day the crossings are closed, as well as the export potential for many other agricultural products,” the groups stated, adding that stopping food traveling to Mexico might lead to inflation or food insecurity there.

Farm and rail firms want US-Mexico borders reopened, closed over migrants

Railroad companies and business groups, including the United States Chamber of Commerce, have recently urged U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to reopen the two rail bridges in Eagle Pass and El Paso, Texas, which were closed on December 18 to “redirect personnel” to process migrants crossing the border.

The National Grain and Feed Association, U.S. Wheat Associates, American Soybean Association, and National Corn Growers Association were among the organizations that signed the agriculture business letter.

According to an internal agency report reviewed by Reuters, the US Border Patrol apprehended nearly 10,800 migrants at the southwest border on Monday, which some current and former officials said was close or at a single-day record high.

The announcement came after Mexico’s immigration office announced in an internal memo accessed by Reuters on December 1 that it would postpone migrant removals due to a funding shortfall at the end of the year.

According to a Mexican source acquainted with the situation, operations should resume in January, and the US closure of legal border crossings appears to be an attempt by the US to put pressure on Mexico over the reduced enforcement.

As per a representative for Mexico’s foreign ministry, no date has been scheduled for the repatriations to resume.

Farm and rail firms want US-Mexico borders reopened, closed over migrants

In the words of the agricultural groups, CBP could reopen the railroad bridges with as few as five employees per crossing, calling the agency’s reasoning for barring the trade routes into question.

According to a White House official, the US is “working closely with the Mexican government in an attempt to resolve this issue, as well as sending additional personnel to the region.” We are in frequent contact with industry experts to ensure that we are assessing and mitigating the effects of these temporary closures.”

The US Department of Transportation stated that total rail freight between the El Paso and Eagle Pass ports surpassed $3 billion in both directions in October. This accounted for roughly 4% of overall border trade between the United States and Mexico that month.

According to Neil Bradley, chief policy officer of the United States Chamber of Commerce, the rail shutdowns “will inflict significant economic harm” and “do nothing to secure the border.”

The spike in migrant crossings comes as Democratic President Joe Biden, who is standing for re-election in 2024, has attempted to reach an agreement with Republican lawmakers that would combine heightened border security with military aid to Ukraine and Israel.

However, as the Christmas holiday approaches, a bipartisan group of senators discussing a compromise has yet to strike an agreement.

‘THERE IS A NEED FOR OPEN TRADE’

Thousands of newcomers have arrived in Eagle Pass and El Paso in recent days, as migrants, including many families with young children, go to the border by bus, cargo train, foot, and even bicycle.

Isabel Rodriguez, 55, was among them. He said he fled El Salvador after being attacked earlier this year by gang members angered that his nephew had refused to join their ranks.

Farm and rail firms want US-Mexico borders reopened, closed over migrants

“I left my country because they threatened to kill me and said they would find me wherever I went,” he stated beside the riverbed in Piedras Negras, Mexico, across from Eagle Pass.

On Wednesday, hundreds of migrants were being kept in an open facility along the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass. Three migrants were taken out with medical crises in the afternoon, as others yelled for food, according to a Reuters witness.

CBP stated that it was aware of two medical problems, one involving dehydration and another involving seizures.

During a press conference near the border, U.S. Representative Tony Gonzales, a Republican from Eagle Pass, urged US lawmakers to implement legal measures to discourage illegal border crossings, which have impacted trade and transit.

“This has to come to an end,” Gonzales declared. “We need to have open trade and commerce again.”

Approximately 270 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have been pulled from their jobs handling deportations and international investigations to assist with migrant transport and other border tasks, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official told Reuters on condition of anonymity to discuss internal operations.

Union Pacific (UNP.N) and Berkshire Hathaway’s (BRKa.N) BNSF Railway, two of the nation’s largest freight train operators, have warned of supply chain disruptions due to railway bridge closures ahead of the Christmas holiday.

Union Pacific stated on its website that the closures had caused the suspension of a variety of products, including grain, beer, metals, cement, and automobile parts. The shuttered bridges account for around 45% of its cross-border goods, with an overall economic impact of more than $200 million every day.

BNSF refused to comment on the monetary value of commodities affected by the closures.

In addition to the railroad crossing closures, border officials in the United States have stopped a main pedestrian crossing near San Diego, California, and another crossing in distant Lukeville, Arizona, this month to free up workers to process arriving migrants.

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