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In El Paso, Abbott touts Operation Lone Star while silent on commercial vehicle inspections

Border War Powers
Julio Cortez
/
AP
FILE - A line of Texas Department of Safety vehicles line up on the Texas side of the Rio Grande with Mexico visible, right, near an encampment of migrants, many from Haiti, on Sept. 22, 2021, in Del Rio, Texas. Former Trump administration officials are pressing Republican border governors to declare an "invasion" along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Speaking to law enforcement, Gov. Greg Abbott said the border could see millions of crossings later this year but didn’t address the backlash his expansion of Operation Lone Star has caused in some business circles.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday warned of a possible “cataclysmic” event on the state’s southern border this spring and reasserted that Texas’ Operation Lone Star is filling in the gaps on border security where the Biden administration has failed.

But during his speech to members of the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition in El Paso, Abbott didn’t mention part of the operation that’s drawn the ire of business leaders and some local officials — increased inspections of commercial vehicles arriving from Mexico.

The increased vehicle inspections by Texas Department of Public Safety officers are part of Operation Lone Star’s expanded mission, which Abbott announced last week in response the Biden administration’s plan to lift a pandemic-era rule called Title 42. The rule quickly expels migrants before they can apply for asylum and was put in place in March of 2020. It is now scheduled to end in late May.

Abbott said the inspections were needed to stop the smuggling of people or drugs into the country as federal agents are unable to do that job.

In addition to the added inspections, state resources will also be used to transport migrants from the Texas border to Washington D.C. and elsewhere. Boat blockades on the Rio Grande and the installation of razor wire in low-water areas are also part of the expansion, Abbott said last week and again touted Monday.

“Where we are today, however, is nothing compared to what we are going to be seeing in about a month from today,” Abbott told the group. He cited that, according to high-end estimates from the Biden Administration’s Department of Homeland Security, some 18,000 migrants could cross daily once the rule is lifted.

“It's going to lead to extraordinary demands on health services, on community services, on the functionality of every single county, especially in the border region, but definitely across the state of Texas,” Abbott said.

Vehicle inspections disrupting border-area commerce

Although Abbott conceded last week that increased inspections will add to wait times for vehicles entering Texas from Mexico, he didn’t mention it Monday. That’s despite a claim from the Mission-based Texas International Produce Association that the inspections have “wreaked havoc up and down our supply chain.”

“Warehouses have staff sitting idle, with no trucks to unload. Buyers in other parts of the country cannot understand why their product is not available,” wrote Dante Galeazzi, the association’s president, to Abbott last week. “U.S. trucking companies are losing money as they sit around for days with no loads to haul.

Mexico is the state’s largest trading partner and was No. 2 in the country behind Canada in 2021. The inland ports of Laredo and El Paso are the busiest in the country, with more than $243 and $85 billion in two-way trade passing through those sectors, respectively.

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said after Abbott’s address to the sheriffs Monday that he’s already fielded calls from Mexican officials complaining about the slowdowns.

“I’ve gotten calls from Consul (Mauricio) Ibarra, from the (Juarez) mayor’s office. It backs up to them,” he said. “Every time there is a decision made without calling the El Paso mayor, without calling myself, it doesn’t make sense.”

Samaniego said the timing is especially critical as the state and local economies look to pull themselves out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve got one of the strongest (trade) economies in El Paso because we know how to move things,” Samaniego said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Abbott, who is running for reelection and faces former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke in the November election, has been under pressure from far-right Republicans to do more on the border despite the governor’s unprecedented actions. U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R- Austin, cheered the commercial slowdowns Sunday.

“Vehicle inspections ordered by @GovAbbott at border causing massive backup. I favor Texas exercising Article IV power AND also pressuring border traffic… Though, the inspections may force @JoeBiden’s hand, IFF Texas holds,” he tweeted.

Meanwhile, O’Rourke is already using what he says is a misguided policy to slam Abbott.

“Just like with the grid, where his incompetence is causing us to pay higher bills, he’s hurting the people of Texas,” O’Rourke tweeted, referencing last year’s winter storm that was responsible for the deaths of hundreds. “He’s causing higher inflation. He’s forcing people to pay more to put food on the table. And he’s hurting small businesses along the border and throughout Texas.”

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Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at jaguilar@kera.org.You can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.