Gov. Greg Abbott and Chihuahua Gov. María Eugenia Campos Galván announced an agreement aimed at halting long delays at border bridges caused by increased commercial vehicle inspections that Abbott ordered last week. It’s the second such agreement between Abbott and a Mexican border governor this week. Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

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Gov. Greg Abbott and Chihuahua Gov. María Eugenia Campos Galván on Thursday announced a deal that will halt the new commercial vehicle inspections at international bridges connecting the two states that have bogged down border commerce — the second such announcement in two days.

Abbott said state troopers will continue inspecting every commercial truck entering Texas from the states of Tamaulipas and Coahuila — which share border crossings with the Rio Grande Valley, Del Rio and Eagle Pass.

As part of the agreement, Chihuahua will continue to implement security measures that Campos Galván started when she came into office in 2021. In a news conference with Abbott in Austin, Campos Galván called the agreement a “win-win situation.” Abbott called Campos Galván’s security plan as “the best border security plan that I’ve seen from any governor from Mexico.”

The deal with Chihuahua — which has a major border crossing at Ciudad Juárez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso — comes a day after Abbott reached a similar agreement with the governor of Nuevo León, the Mexican state that shares a narrow sliver of border with Texas that includes a major commercial bridge outside of Nuevo Laredo.

Last week, Abbott ordered Department of Public Safety troopers to inspect every commercial truck for illegal drugs and immigrants as they crossed at least four international bridges as a response to the Biden administration’s plan to end Title 42 — a pandemic-era rule by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that allows federal immigration officials to turn away recently arrived migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, including those who are seeking asylum.

Title 42, implemented in March 2020, is meant to be used to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But Republicans have said the rule is still needed to keep order at the border, which they say has been chaotic as a result of the Biden administration’s immigration policies.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, already conducts commercial inspections and has called the state inspections “unnecessary.”

Last month, Campos Galván met with CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar in Washington, D.C. In the meeting, she told them her administration installed cameras with facial recognition and license plate reading technology to monitor vehicles entering Juárez, where drug cartel violence has plagued the city for years. She also said she ordered the move of the police headquarters from the state capital to Juárez.

During the news conference on Thursday in Austin, she said her administration would share intelligence with Abbott’s office over any security issues.

Abbott agreed to halt state troopers’ inspections of commercial cargo at the Laredo-Colombia Solidarity International Bridge after Gov. Samuel Alejandro García Sepúlveda agreed to increase security on the Mexican side of the bridge.

The governors of the two other Mexican states that border Texas — Coahuila and Tamaulipas — have also reached out to Abbott seeking meetings to ask what they can do to end the enhanced state inspections at their international bridges, according to the two governors’ spokespeople.

Abbott said during the news conference that he plans to meet with the governor of Coahuila on Friday. He also said his secretary of state has been in touch with the governor of Tamaulipas.

On Tuesday, those same governors sent a letter to Abbott telling him the inspections are “overzealous” and criticizing his move as political grandstanding, saying, “political points have never been a good recipe to address common challenges or threats.”

The inspections have resulted in hourslong and sometimes dayslong delays for shipments from Mexico, including produce, auto and medical equipment and other items purchased by American companies.

During a Wednesday news conference in Laredo, Abbott celebrated the agreement with Nuevo León, saying, “Sometimes it just takes action like that to spur people sitting down and working things out like the way that they are beginning to work out,” Abbott said.

But a security expert and an official with the Tamaulipas government say the security measures Nuevo León has put in place are only a short-term solution. Drug cartels adapt to whatever security measures both countries implement and eventually find ways to smuggle migrants and drugs, they both said.

The Mexican government also has a culture of corruption, so it’s not unusual for cartels to bribe police or other officials to let loads of drugs and migrants through, said Adam Isacson, director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, an advocacy group for human rights in the Americas.

“If you take a place like Nuevo Laredo, the Northeast Cartel pretty much controls everything,” he said. “Just installing a few new roadblocks won’t make much of a difference.”

As an example, he pointed to the arrest last month of Juan Gerardo Treviño-Chavez, also known as El Huevo, the leader of the Northeast Cartel, which triggered gunfights throughout Nuevo Laredo between cartel members and the Mexican military. Cartel members also set 18-wheelers on fire on a key road into the city after his arrest.

On Wednesday in the Rio Grande Valley, news organizations in Mexico reported that members of a drug cartel had set fire to four 18-wheelers near the Pharr-Reynosa bridge. The Monitor, a McAllen newspaper, reported that drug cartel members set the cargo ablaze to force truckers to end their blockade in protest of Abbott’s added inspections.

“This is the way [drug cartels] put pressure for them to be able to continue … their illegal activities,” said Francisco Galván Garza, who works in the administration of Tamaulipas Gov. Francisco Cabeza de Vaca.

Galván Garza said any agreement between Tamaulipas and Texas will solve the border delays only on the Texas side.

Ultimately, he said, the federal governments of Mexico and the United States need to step up and find a solution to immigration. He said if Tamaulipas heightens its security measures even more, drug cartels will find ways to bypass them.

Cabeza de Vaca “has been putting all his effort on securing the state during his five years in office,” he said. “The state has been more secure, but there’s still a lot of work that has to be done.”

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