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In El Paso, Abbott says border inspections that snarled trade weren’t about finding contraband

LM Otero
/
Associated Press

During a roundtable discussion with border business leaders in El Paso Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott defended a costly bridge slowdown he implemented earlier this year and said the wait times they created were “minuscule.”

Abbott also said that the operation was never about finding illegal drugs or migrants but instead about keeping state roadways safe. That’s despite Abbott saying several times the operation was a direct response to what he called President Biden’s open-border policies.

In April, Abbott ordered Texas Department of Public Safety troopers to conduct inspections of commercial vehicles coming into Texas in response to the Biden administration’s plan to end Title 42, a pandemic-era rule used to quickly expel migrants back to Mexico. The inspections led to delays that exceeded 12 hours at some ports and led to billions of dollars in losses for the state economy.

Abbott downplayed the wait times during his meeting.

“To be clear about it, it was an average of a five-hour delay and that average of a five-hour delay is miniscule when you compare it to the 18-month delay by the Biden administration to step up and do anything about securing the border,” Abbott said in El Paso. Abbott then cited the more than 2 million encounters of undocumented immigrants by U.S. Border Patrol agents this fiscal year and the amount of fentanyl seized at the border as justification for the operation.

“It’s essential that the Biden administration finally step up and start doing something, waking up to the reality that under his watch over the past year alone more than 2 million people have come across the border illegally,” he said. “We’re also seeing a record amount of fentanyl coming across the border. What we’re trying to do is address all of these challenges.”

The shutdown lasted a little more than a week and ended after Abbott met with the governors of the four Mexican states that border Texas. The Mexican leaders signed agreements to bolster security on their side of the border, and Abbott said at the time the inspections were implemented to, in part, thwart smuggling.

“The historic MOUs signed with Nuevo León, Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas come after Governor Abbott directed DPS to conduct enhanced safety inspections of vehicles crossing international ports of entry into Texas ahead of an anticipated rise in cartel-facilitated smuggling upon the Biden Administration's decision to end Title 42 expulsions,” his office said in a statement on April 15.

It was later reported that during the operation DPS officers found no drugs, weapons or migrants, according to The Texas Tribune. Abbott has maintained the effort was also geared toward vehicle safety. On Thursday, however, Abbott said the inspections were only about vehicle safety and not about finding contraband.

“To be clear what DPS’s announced strategy for those inspections was, [was] not to look for drugs. Their purpose was to inspect vehicles,” he said. “They took hundreds of vehicles off the road. Who knows how many lives were saved by the fact that some vehicles had unlicensed drivers, other vehicles had raw tires that could have turned into a flat or an accident, others had other equipment failures that could have caused an accident.”

When asked if he regretted the operation due to the financial losses the state incurred, Abbott said the state would do what it needed to secure the border and didn’t rule out similar efforts in the future.

“We will use every tool and strategy we need to use to make sure we are going to be attacking the importation of fentanyl and that we’re going to be stepping up and trying to address it,” he said.

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

Copyright 2022 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

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