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O'Rourke blasts Abbott's border inspections as threat to economy after truckers block ports

Two photos side by side of men at microphones
KUT
Beto O'Rourke will face Greg Abbott in the November election.

Democrat Beto O’Rourke has seized on the trade stoppage at the state’s Southern border to blame Gov. Greg Abbott for hurting the state’s economy with what O’Rourke has labeled a “political stunt.”

Reports surfaced late Monday that Mexican commercial truck drivers had blocked ports in El Paso and Pharr, Texas — two of the country’s busiest — to protest increased wait times due to enhanced security measures Abbott ordered last week. Abbott said the order for Texas Department of Public Safety troopers to conduct enhanced inspections was in preparation for the lifting next month of Title 42, a pandemic-era rule used to quickly expel migrants.

On Tuesday, O’Rourke used an empty warehouse in Pharr as the backdrop for a news conference where he slammed the Republican governor's proposal as a potential job killer on the border and beyond.

“This should be full of produce, and imports that are going to be picked up by U.S. truckers to be taken deeper into this country. But, as you can see, right now it is empty,” he said. “It’s going to make it harder to keep people employed, to hire people and to keep this economy going here locally and across the state of Texas.”

O’Rourke was flanked by Joe Arevalo and Polo Chow. Arevalo owns a warehouse and Chow is the owner of a commercial trucking company that serves Toyota, the campaign said.

“We’re living through a nightmare. We’re already suffering through a very delicate supply chain from the pandemic and [we’re] just trying to regrow the business,” Arevalo said. “The end result is that importers are going to leave. Importers that normally bring in hundreds of millions of dollars every year of business are going to start going to other ports.”

Arevalo said that some of his clients have already said they’re considering taking freight through Nogales, Ariz., or San Diego. O’Rourke said he was told by other business owners in the area they are considering similar options.

“I think that makes the case that Greg Abbott is good for Arizona but he’s very bad for the state of Texas,” O’Rourke said. “He’s hurting the state of Texas right now.”

O’Rourke’s stop in the Rio Grande Valley comes as Abbott has sought to make inroads with Latino voters there and elsewhere across the state.

In an email, Abbott campaign spokesperson Mark Miner said that O’Rourke was in “denial” of what is happening on the border.

“Beto O’ Rourke is completely out of touch with the border crisis that his friend President Biden created. The safety inspections are keeping dangerous vehicles and drivers off Texas roads and preventing cartels from continuing to distribute deadly drugs like fentanyl into Texas communities,” Miner said. “His complete denial that a border crisis exists is a direct slap in the face to family members who have lost a loved one to fentanyl or have experienced the horrendous crime of human trafficking."

The trucking protests began Monday, the same day Abbott was in El Paso speaking to a group of Texas border sheriffs who he said were part of the front lines of defense against what he’s called President Biden’s “open-border” policies. Abbott touted other aspects of his border strategy, called Operation Lone Star, but didn’t mention the vehicle inspections.

The blockades have reportedly continued into Tuesday and Customs and Border Protection officials in Pharr and El Paso referred question to Mexican officials as the blockades are occurring south of the Rio Grande.

‘What does victory look like?”

Through February, the ports of Ysleta and Pharr have seen $10.6 billion and $7.2 billion in two-way trade, respectively, according to WorldCity, a Florida-based company that tracks U.S. Census trade data. WorldCity president Ken Roberts said that even if the blockades end, the increased inspections run the risk of throwing a wrench into the supply chain for months or longer.

“The blockade is one thing, but the searches throw the supply chain off and if that goes on for weeks, it affects everything,” Roberts told The Texas Newsroom. That’s due to a practice of just-in-time trade models, where items and supplies are transported for current demand rather than stockpiled for future needs.

“The whole notion of globalization and just-in-time was always ‘no sand in the gears’ and if you start throwing sand in the gears the whole thing gets thrown out of whack,” he said.

With inflation already at a 40-year high, Roberts added, it spells trouble for consumers.

“People are going to find in the stores they can’t find what they want to get,” he said. “If you give people a reason to raise prices, they’ll raise prices.”

Roberts, who also contributes to Forbes, said that a greater risk is if what’s going on in Pharr and El Paso spreads to Laredo, the country’s busiest inland port which has accounted for 37% of trade with Mexico just this year.

“What does victory look like? What is Abbott’s goal? What does he think will happen to make him say ‘OK, I don’t have to do this anymore?'” Roberts 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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