Updated Dec 22, 2023 - Politics & Policy

U.S.-Mexico border closures could cost billions

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios. Photos: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP, Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Partial closures at key U.S.-Mexico border crossings could cost billions in trade and are causing chaos and political fallout.

The big picture: A massive influx of immigrants at the southern border has led U.S. Customs and Border Protection to divert resources from busy crossings in Arizona and Texas.

  • Republicans say the Biden administration needs to do more to address the issue, and former President Trump says he is "closing the border" as one of his first acts if he returns to office.

Yes, but: There is evidence that even partial closures can have devastating consequences.

  • After railway operations in Eagle Pass and El Paso, Texas, were temporarily suspended this month to send officers to process migrants, businesses reported a drop in traffic and damage to local economies.
  • Eagle Pass and El Paso account for $33.95 billion annually in trade — just shy of 36% of all cross-border rail traffic to and from Mexico, according to the Texas Association of Business.
  • "This is a short-sighted, half-baked decision that will not make a dent in illegal migration but will cause economic harm to everyday Americans," Texas Association of Business president and CEO Glenn Hamer said in a statement.

Where it stands: Operations in Eagle Pass and El Paso resumed Friday afternoon, CBP said in a statement.

The closure of the Lukeville Port of Entry in Arizona, the main crossing for people traveling to the popular tourism destination of Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, has created a political firestorm for the Biden administration in Arizona — a critical swing state.

  • Local gas stations and restaurants on both sides of the border have had to cut hours, and some businesses are contemplating closing temporarily out of survival, per the Arizona Republic.
  • The border crossing has been closed since Dec. 4, and there's no reopen date in sight.
  • Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, sharply criticized the Biden administration over the ordeal, saying it was a "bad decision."

A White House spokesperson tells Axios that authorities "took this temporary action in order to stop a large movement of migrants coming by rail and to protect the health and safety of its personnel."

  • "We are working closely with the Mexican government in an attempt to resolve this issue, and also surging personnel to the region. We are communicating regularly with industry leaders to ensure we are assessing and mitigating the impacts of these temporary closures."
  • Later Thursday, the White House released a readout of Biden's call with Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador where both sides agreed that more "enforcement actions" were needed so key ports of entry could reopen.

State of play: CBP is surpassing 10,000 encounters with migrants along the southern border per day and is seeing record numbers of illegal crossings this month, per the Washington Post.

  • The increase has been building in recent years amid a stalemate in Congress over the last two decades on passing any significant immigration reform.
  • "After observing a recent resurgence of smuggling organizations moving migrants through Mexico via freight trains, CBP is taking additional actions to surge personnel and address this concerning development, including in partnership with Mexican authorities," U.S. CBP said in a statement.

A complete border shutdown, as proposed by several candidates vying for the GOP nomination for president, could cost the U.S. billions of dollars in trade and create chaos for U.S. citizens and Mexicans who cross through both sides daily to shop, buy cheaper medicine or attend school.

  • Food and fuel chains would be disrupted. Auto parts would become scarce. In less than a month, Americans may run out of avocados.
  • Grocery and gas prices could surge, and Mexico, which is currently experiencing economic growth, would be thrown into disarray, which could spark more migration.

What they're saying: Jerry Pacheco, president and CEO of the Border Industrial Association, tells Axios that proposing a full border shutdown is "such a naive and foolish thing to say." His nonprofit runs the industrial park in the booming border town of Santa Teresa, New Mexico.

  • "Mexico is now our largest trading partner. And we have millions — not thousands — millions of jobs in the United States that depend on that binational relationship."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include where operations resumed.

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