The federal government on Friday reopened railroad crossings in two Texas border towns, five days after the shuttering of rail operations there disrupted trade and caused outrage.
Customs and Border Protection closed railroad operations in Eagle Pass and El Paso, Texas, on Monday to reallocate their customs officers to help Border Patrol take migrants into custody. Both regions have seen the number of illegal border crossings soar this month.
Operations resumed at both cities as of Friday afternoon.
Troy Miller, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s acting commissioner, said the closures at Eagle Pass and El Paso were a response to more migrants traveling on freight trains recently. Miller said authorities are seeing “unprecedented” arrivals at the border, topping 10,000 crossings on some days this month.
The closures affected two of the six available rail border crossings between the U.S. and Mexico. Union Pacific and BNSF, the affected carriers, said automotive, agricultural, chemicals, and other consumer goods were halted. Union Pacific estimated that the closures cost $200 million in daily losses across affected industries.
News of the reopening was received with relief, but both BNSF and Union Pacific said they would be working diligently to make up for lost time.
“We will restore normal operations as quickly as possible as we work through the five-day backlog of shipments holding to cross the border,” a Union Pacific spokesperson said in a statement.
CBP said they made the changes after observing a shift in the trends of smuggling operations in Mexico that used freight trains. Although migrants board trains traveling through Mexico, the railroad carriers said they have safety measures in place to deter and detect migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. aboard their cars.
Union Pacific said it has found only five migrants trying to enter the U.S. illegally on its trains in the last five weeks.
“Through our efforts, we have experienced very few people attempting to cross the border on trains at both ports of entry,” BNSF said via a statement.
Other similar decisions to close down ports of entry and redirect officers to help with an uptick in migrant crossings are still in place. CBP said vehicular traffic is still suspended at one of the two international bridges in Eagle Pass. A pedestrian entry in San Diego, a port of entry in Lukeville, Arizona, and a border crossing in Nogales, Arizona, remained closed as of Friday.
Even after the railroad operations resumed, stakeholders expressed disapproval over the federal government’s decision.
“In the face of the unprecedented humanitarian crisis, CBP has been working under exceptionally difficult circumstances, but these ill-advised closures were a blunt force tool that did nothing to bolster law enforcement capacity,” said Ian Jefferies, the CEO and president of the Association of American Railroads.
The stalled shipments of agricultural products affected farmers and ranchers. The Nebraska Farm Bureau, an organization representing 55,000 families who have farms or ranches, called for long-term solutions but stressed more immediate changes, too.
“In the future, we call upon the Biden administration to allocate the resources necessary to secure our nation’s southern border before costing our nation’s agricultural and overall economy millions of dollars,” Mark McHargue, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau, said in a statement.
Frustrated politicians made similar pleas with the president. Sen. Pete Ricketts, a Republican representative from Nebraska, said the president needed to take the situation “seriously” but also called on Mexico to do more.
“Mexico also needs to do its part by enforcing its immigration laws and preventing thousands of illegal immigrants from riding Ferromex trains to our border,” Ricketts said in a statement.
The temporary closures added pressure to talks between the U.S. and Mexico addressing the recent acceleration of border crossings. President Joe Biden spoke with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Thursday and agreed that additional border enforcement was needed so the crossings can be reopened, according to White House national security spokesperson John Kirby.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers are debating border policy changes as part of a larger conversation over U.S. assistance for Ukraine and Israel, which are top foreign policy priorities for the White House.
A delegation of top U.S. officials is expected to visit Mexico soon as negotiations over how to enforce immigration rules at the two countries’ shared border continue on Capitol Hill.
López Obrador said Friday that he is willing to help reduce the number of migrants accessing the U.S. through Mexico and to continue establishing an agreement with Venezuela, which has one of the highest number of migrants entering the U.S.
The Mexican president also wants the U.S. government to open talks with Cuba and send more development aid to migrants’ home countries.
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