NUEVO PROGRESO, Mexico (Border Report) — U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers have begun shutting down or greatly reducing the amount of traffic let in from Mexico at international bridges in South Texas as a way to thwart a rash of so-called ‘bridge runners,’ or asylum seekers who are sprinting across international bridges in the hopes of making it to U.S. soil.
At the Progreso-Nuevo Progreso International Bridge on Saturday, incoming traffic from Mexico was reduced to just one lane. Officers were stationed at the bridge’s midpoint where the two countries meet, and where a large tent was placed on the bridge. Concrete barriers and even metal trashcans blocked the bridge to reduce traffic flow. Rolls of concertina wire also were placed, and high, double-fencing cordoned off the pedestrian walkway.
Border officers waved vehicles through one at a time, questioning drivers and looking into front and backseats, as traffic into Mexico backed up for blocks.
The positioning of officers in the middle of the bridge, rather than at the U.S. base of the bridge, represents a stark change in usual international bridge operations. It caused massive traffic backups and frustrated many drivers who cross daily for business, school or shopping. But it is what officers must do, federal officials said, to better prevent port or bridge runners, whose numbers have been increasing in the past few weeks.
Two of the biggest problem areas have been seen at the Pharr–Reynosa International Bridge, which connects the Texas city of Pharr with the Mexican city of Reynosa in the state of Tamaulipas; and at the Rio Grande City–Camargo International Bridge, which connects Rio Grande City in South Texas, with the Mexican city of Camargo in Tamaulipas.
Bridge or port running has become such a problem in South Texas, especially in Pharr, that since July 4, CBP has shut down that bridge to all passenger vehicle traffic on weekdays. Now the bridge is only open to passenger traffic from 4 p.m. to midnight on Saturdays and Sundays.
“This is not permanent but will be in place until the number of asylum seekers amassed across from the ports of entry decreases or stops,” U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said at a news conference Friday in McAllen, Texas. Cuellar, who is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, said the Pharr port has had over 4,000 migrants who have attempted to circumvent inspection this year.
“You have some people that have gotten a little desperate and they might be using a taxi or a car or just run across the bridge and that means our CBP officers are now going to the middle of the bridge and sometimes stopping traffic because you have people that are trying to get into the middle of the bridge to then claim asylum … That’s impacting our trade and tourism,” Cuellar said. “It’s causing bridge closures and adversely impacting wait times.”
On July 3, the McAllen–Hidalgo–Reynosa International Bridge was temporarily shut down “after multiple groups of migrants tried to rush past a checkpoint,” Cuellar said in a statement. The next day, the Gateway International Bridge, connecting Brownsville, Texas, to Matamoros, Mexico, also was temporarily closed “after a group of 300 migrants attempted to cross the border by force.”
On Saturday, traffic backed up for blocks in Nuevo Progreso, Mexico, as agents filtered passenger vehicles through at a slow pace. When asylum seekers make a run for it, locals say the bridge can be shut down for hours. Although the bridge is equipped with multiple lanes, only one lane was open to passenger vehicles, and that even included bicyclists.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com.