U.S. Reopens Mexico Rail Crossings after Closure Sought to Stem Migration

REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
Stranded freight trains wait at a railroad yard, near the border between Mexico and the United States after a five-day suspension due to U.S. authorities closing railway bridges in Eagle Pass and El Paso, Texas, in order to redirect personnel to stop an increase in the migration, in Piedras Negras, Cohauila, Mexico December 22, 2023.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Friday reopened two rail crossings between Texas and Mexico vital for exports, five days after their closure in response to increased migrant traffic, and new U.S. data showed migrant numbers at the southern U.S. border remained high last month.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said operations resumed on Friday afternoon at the international railway crossing bridges in Eagle Pass and El Paso, Texas. The closures had dismayed railroads, the agriculture industry and some lawmakers concerned by the loss of exports.

The White House said the United States will operate the crossings 24 hours a day for the next few days, and railroads, U.S. grain industry trade groups and Mexico’s farm lobby welcomed the reopening.

Growers, representing U.S. corn, milk, rice and soybean producers, among others, this week estimated that almost 1 million bushels of grain exports were lost every day of the closure.

At the start of the week, the Biden administration closed two rail trade routes between the U.S. and Mexico, a move intended to free up customs personnel to assist border agents.

U.S. data released on Friday showed the number of migrants encountered by CBP agents along the clogged southern border in November remained high, keeping pressure on President Joe Biden to reduce the flow significantly ahead of his reelection bid next year.

CBP migrant encounters for November totaled 242,418, roughly level with October but down from September’s near record high of 270,000. U.S. border agents apprehended about 10,800 migrants at the southwest border on Monday, according to an internal report reviewed by Reuters, and several current and former officials said this was near or at a single-day record high.

Praising the reopening, Ian Jefferies, CEO of the Association of American Railroads, said the rail crossing closures did not help stem the flow of migrants.

“These ill-advised closures were a blunt-force tool that did nothing to bolster law enforcement capacity,” he said.

The U.S. thanked Mexico on Friday for its efforts. “We are grateful for Mexico’s cooperation to reduce migration pressure in these sectors and combat the smugglers placing migrants in harm’s way,” a White House spokesperson said.

Mexico’s foreign ministry said the government “insisted on the need to reopen border crossings as soon as possible to guarantee dynamic trade flows and enhance the economic relationship” between the U.S. and Mexico.

Mexico’s main farm lobby CNA expressed relief over the reopenings, saying “the lack of supplies in Mexico, caused by the closures, was affecting food production, raising costs and putting food security at risk in the country.”