EL PASO — Officials in Texas took steps on Tuesday to all but close an international crossing in El Paso, as state police began conducting commercial vehicle inspections oftrucks entering the United States.
The move resembled one ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott this spring, an effort that resulted in traffic jams that severely interrupted the flow of goods into the United States, with lines of trucks stretching back miles into Mexico. In protest, some Mexican truckers created a blockade to further impede traffic and seek an end to the Texas inspections.
Mr. Abbott presented that effort as a way to pressure the Mexican government to do more to stop migrants and smugglers from trying to cross the border. He ultimately lifted the inspections after securing broad promises to increase enforcement from local Mexican state leaders, including the governor of Chihuahua, which is just across the border from El Paso.
But the efforts of Mr. Abbott and the promises of Mexican officials do not appear to have had much effect.
El Paso has in recent months become a main destination for illegal crossings. Over the weekend, Border Patrol agents recorded more than 7,000 migrant encounters, including with a group of around 1,000 people who came over together on Sunday night in one of the largest single crossings in the city.
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The situation, fueled first by the arrival of large numbers of Venezuelans and, more recently, of Nicaraguans, has provided a possible preview of the difficulty border communities could face with the end of a pandemic public health policy that allowed for rapid removals of arriving migrants. Until October, the policy did not apply to Venezuelans, for diplomatic reasons, which meant that most Venezuelans were released into the United States pending their immigration hearings. The policy, known as Title 42, still does not apply to Nicaraguans. It is set to expire next week, unless a court delays the date.
Local officials in El Paso have been struggling to keep up with the constant arrivals. Over the summer, the city’s leadership embarked on a program of busing migrants, a large percentage of whom were from Venezuela, to destinations north and east, including, predominantly, New York City. The program stopped after the Biden administration extended the public health policy to Venezuelans while offering an opportunity for up to 24,000 of them to enter the country legally.
On Tuesday, officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety could be seen conducting inspections on the El Paso side of at least one international crossing as traffic began to build. The checks are permitted for vehicle safety issues, not for contraband or migrants.
The state police began on Tuesday to conduct “enhanced commercial vehicle safety inspections at random as they cross international ports of entry,” the agency said in a statement.
Frustration mounted among truck drivers who were waiting in line for the second inspection, after having crossed the international bridge. Many shook their heads, and others got out of their trucks and studied the slow pace at which the trucks were moving.
“We heard this is happening because of the undocumented workers,” said Roberto Lugo, who reached the international bridge on the Mexican side at 6 p.m. on Monday. By 10 a.m. the next morning, he had crossed the border but was still behind a row of trucks at the intersection of Delta Drive and Gateway North, not far from the main bridge.
Mr. Lugo had been told that the Texas state police were starting their own inspections on Tuesday. “They are just causing a backup for no reason, and it delays our work,” he said. “The line is not moving. This is not going to stop immigrants crossings. It only affects us.”
Some had heard that the state police checkpoints that made their lives miserable months ago had returned.
Gonzalo Luna, who transports electronics across the border, was told that state officials had to inspect his truck, and seemed dismayed by how long he had been idling. “I’m beyond frustrated. I feel a sense of desperation,” he said. “Today is the first day they are doing this. I hope it is the last.”
Similar scenes were playing out in Ciudad Juárez, where truck drivers formed an orderly line at the Cordova bridge on Tuesday morning. Some said that crossings had been stopped for at least two hours.
“Normally, it takes 30, 40 minutes to cross, but now I’m wondering if we’ll be here for days,” said Oscar Barba, 50, a truck driver from Juárez who was taking a cargo of cardboard to El Paso to be recycled. “I’m just hoping this doesn’t last long. We all have work to do, families at home waiting for us.”
At another point along the border, near downtown El Paso, hundreds of migrants, largely from Nicaragua and Venezuela, lined up on foot to request asylum. Many shivered under blankets after crossing the Rio Grande; temperatures in Juárez hovered in the 30s after a cold front had moved into the area.
“I just want to get to California,” said Ernal Romero, 37, who made the voyage from Corinto, a town on Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast where he worked as a fisherman. Mr. Romero, barefoot and in shorts after wading across the river, wrapped himself in a trash bag as cold winds swept through the area.
“Nicaragua is no place to live with any dignity at this time,” Mr. Romero said. “I just want a better life.”