Importers should expect “a slowdown in the processing of trade” along the U.S.-Mexico border for an indeterminate period of time as resources are shifted to deal with a “dramatic increase in illegal crossings” by migrants, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said March 27. McAleenan said up to 750 CBP officers from ports of entry along the border will soon be reassigned to assist the U.S. Border Patrol with processing, transportation, and hospital watch of migrants. This will force CBP to close some processing lanes, he said, which press reports indicated could happen in El Paso, Laredo, Tucson, and San Diego.

McAleenan explained that CBP had more than 13,000 migrants in custody this week, an “unprecedented” number and more than double what the agency considers “crisis level.” This increase is having a detrimental impact on CBP’s primary border security mission, he said, and criminal organizations and smugglers benefit from the agency’s reduced border enforcement presence.

A large number of the migrants being apprehended at the border are from Central America, McAleenan said. Earlier this month McAleenan asked members of CBP’s Commercial Customs Operations Advisory Committee to participate in a newly-formed Northern Triangle Working Group that will seek to develop recommendations on reducing non-tariff trade barriers and improving customs processes in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. He explained that facilitating trade flows could help address the region’s economic challenges, which he said play a major role in spurring illicit migration to the U.S.

On March 28 Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen signed with officials from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador what DHS called “the first ever multilateral compact on border security.” This memorandum aims to foster closer cooperation on strengthening border security and addressing the root causes of the increase in migration, including by expanding information and intelligence sharing.

For more information, please contact Lenny Feldman at (305) 894-1011 or Tom Gould at (213) 453-0897.

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