Farm, rail companies urge reopening of US-Mexico crossings shut over migrants

By Cheney Orr, Laura Gottesdiener and Ted Hesson

EAGLE PASS, Texas (Reuters) -Dozens of major U.S. agricultural groups on Wednesday urged the U.S. to reopen two rail crossings on the Texas-Mexico border in an effort to restore the trade routes shuttered due to increased migrant crossings, saying they are causing steep export losses.

In a sharply worded letter to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the growers – representing corn, milk, rice and soybean producers, among others – said the crossings could be easily reopened.

“Each day the crossings are closed we estimate almost 1 million bushels of grain exports are potentially lost along with export potential for many other agricultural products,” the groups wrote, adding that blocking food heading to Mexico could lead to inflation or food insecurity there.

Railroad companies and business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in recent days have pressed U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to reopen the two rail bridges in Eagle Pass and El Paso, Texas, after U.S. border authorities closed them on Dec. 18 in order to “redirect personnel” to process migrants crossing the border.

Among the groups signing the agricultural business letter were the National Grain and Feed Association, U.S. Wheat Associates, American Soybean Association and National Corn Growers Association.

U.S. Border Patrol apprehended about 10,800 migrants at the southwest border on Monday, according to an internal agency report reviewed by Reuters, which several current and former officials said was near or at a single-day record high.

The news came after Mexico’s immigration agency said in an internal Dec. 1 memo reviewed by Reuters that it would suspend migrant removals due to an end-of-year funding crunch.

Operations should return to normal in January, a Mexican source familiar with the matter said, adding that the U.S. closure of legal border crossings appeared to be an attempt by the U.S. to pressure Mexico over the scaled-back enforcement.

Mexico’s foreign ministry spokesperson said no date had been set for resuming the repatriations.

The agricultural groups said CBP could reopen the railroad bridges with as few as five employees per crossing, challenging the agency’s rationale for closing the trade routes.

A White House spokesperson said on Wednesday that the U.S. is “working closely with the Mexican government in attempt to resolve this issue, and also surging personnel to the region. We are communicating regularly with industry leaders to ensure we are assessing and mitigating the impacts of these temporary closures.”

In October, total rail freight between the El Paso and Eagle Pass ports topped $3 billion in both directions, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. That accounted for some 4% of total trade across the U.S.-Mexico border that month.

Neil Bradley, chief policy officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement to Reuters that the rail shutdowns “will inflict significant economic harm” and “do nothing to secure the border.”

The increase in migrant crossings comes as Democratic President Joe Biden, who is running for re-election in 2024, has sought to strike a deal with Republican lawmakers that would pair increased U.S. border security with military aid for Ukraine and Israel.

But a bipartisan group of senators negotiating a compromise have so far failed to reach a deal as a Christmas break approaches.


Eagle Pass and El Paso have received thousands of newcomers in recent days, as migrants – including many families with young children – make their way to the border by bus, atop cargo trains, on foot and even by bicycle.

Among them was Isabel Rodriguez, 55, who said he fled his home country of El Salvador after he was attacked earlier this year by gang members who were enraged that his nephew had refused to join their ranks.

“I left my country because they threatened to kill me, and they said they would find me wherever I went,” he said, speaking by the riverbank in the Mexican city of Piedras Negras, across from Eagle Pass.

On Wednesday in Eagle Pass, hundreds of migrants were being held in an outdoor area near the Rio Grande. Three migrants were carried out with medical emergencies in the afternoon while others called out for food, a Reuters witness said.

CBP said it was aware of two medical emergencies, one related to dehydration and another that appeared to be seizure-related.

During a press conference near the border, U.S. Representative Tony Gonzales, a Republican who represents Eagle Pass, urged U.S. lawmakers to make legal changes to deter illegal border crossings that have disrupted trade and transit.

“This has to come to an end,” Gonzales said. “We need to have open trade and commerce again.”

Some 270 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have been pulled from their jobs handling deportations and international investigations to help with migrant transport and other tasks at the border, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official told Reuters, requesting anonymity to discuss internal operations.

Union Pacific and Berkshire Hathaway’s BNSF Railway, two of the nation’s largest freight railroad companies, warned of supply chain disruptions ahead of the Christmas holiday due to the railway bridge closures.

Union Pacific said in a statement on its website that a range of products – including grain, beer, metals, cement and automotive parts – have been halted due to the closures. The closed bridges account for about 45% of its cross-border shipments and that the overall economic impact of the closure will be more than $200 million per day.

BNSF declined to comment on the value of goods affected by the closings.

In addition to the railroad crossing closures, U.S. border authorities this month have closed a busy pedestrian crossing near San Diego, California, and another crossing in remote Lukeville, Arizona, to free up workers to process arriving migrants.

(Reporting by Cheney Orr in Eagle Pass, Texas, Ted Hesson in Washington and Laura Gottesdiener in Monterrey, Mexico; Additional reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Karl Plume in Chicago; and Cassandra Garrison and Dave Graham in Mexico City; Editing by Mary Milliken, Aurora Ellis and Leslie Adler)