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story.lead_photo.caption A row of trucks wait to cross the border with the United States in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. The Trump administration has reassigned so many inspectors from U.S.-Mexico border crossings that it has caused huge traffic backups for truckers who are waiting in line for hours and in some case days to get shipments to the U.S. (AP Photo/Christian Torres)

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico -- To deal with a surge of migrating Central American families, President Donald Trump's administration has reassigned so many inspectors from U.S.-Mexico border crossings that truckers are waiting in line for hours and sometimes days to get shipments to the United States.

Truckers have been sleeping in their vehicles to hold spots in line in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas. Portable toilets were sent to the area, and an engine-oil company hired models in skin-tight clothing to hand out burritos and bottled water to idled drivers.

"My family doesn't recognize me at home anymore," Jaime Monroy, a trucker who lives in Ciudad Juarez, said after sleeping overnight in the cabin of a truck full of wooden furniture. "I leave at 3 in the morning and come back at 10 at night."

The waits are a reminder that even though Trump has walked back his threat to close the border, the redeployment of customs agents has created significant impediments for truckers, travelers and shoppers.

Business leaders are starting to lose patience as they struggle to get products to American grocery stores, manufacturers and construction sites.

"This is a systemwide issue," said Paola Avila, chairman of the Border Trade Alliance, a group that advocates for cross-border commerce. All along the 2,000-mile border, wait times have increased.

"There's no point in redirecting commerce elsewhere," Avila said.

The administration has reassigned 541 border inspectors to other jobs, including processing migrants, providing transportation and performing hospital watch for migrants who require medical attention. It is unknown when inspectors will return to their regular duties.

Border inspectors, who are trained to screen people and cargo for smuggling, are now serving as aides to Border Patrol agents, learning data entry for asylum seekers' paperwork and shuttling migrants to hospitals, shelters and transportation hubs.

Border Patrol agents, who guard areas between ports, are also doing jobs they were not trained to do, such as medical screenings for children and families in the migrant holding camps.

In El Paso, authorities have closed one bridge to truckers, directing them to two nearby crossings. At San Diego's only truck crossing, two of 10 lanes are closed.

In Nogales, Ariz., the government on Sundays is closing a commercial facility that is crucial to cross-border trade. As many as 12,000 commercial trucks cross the border in Nogales every day, often carrying watermelons, eggplants, berries and grapes.

Wait times have doubled at the Santa Teresa, N.M., port of entry.

Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, who was named acting Homeland Security Department secretary on Sunday, warned of traffic delays when he announced last month in El Paso that inspectors from across the border would be reassigned. Authorities raised the possibility that as many as 2,000 inspectors could be pulled from ports of entry.

A Customs and Border Protection mobile app suggested the bottlenecks may have eased. On Tuesday, the wait time for truckers was estimated at three hours in San Diego, more than two hours in El Paso and two hours in Laredo, Texas. Still, truckers said wait times have lengthened considerably since authorities announced the reassignments.

Information for this article was contributed by Susan Montoya Bryan, Astrid Galvan and Elliot Spagat of The Associated Press.

Business on 04/10/2019

Print Headline: Truckers at border facing longer waits


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