Export assembly factories in Nogales, Sonora have begun testing non-ground options to get their products across the border in case the Trump administration were to close the southern U.S. ports of entry from Mexico.
In early April, Trump threatened to close the southern border in response to large numbers of migrants reaching U.S. ports of entry to ask for asylum, then backed off a few days later.
But account manager Joshua Rubin of Javid LLC, a shelter service for manufacturing businesses in Mexico, said the so-called maquiladora assembly plants in Nogales, Sonora are still playing it safe by testing flying routes as a plan B.
“The words are (Trump is) going to shut the border, but not air and not sea,” Rubin said during the Greater Nogales-Santa Cruz County Port Authority meeting last Thursday in Nogales, Ariz. “There’s different companies in Nogales, specifically, that are testing different routes and different options to see what they can do.”
The maquiladoras – foreign-owned factories in Mexican border towns where products are made strictly for export – import parts from abroad. Rubin explained that some of the bigger factories in Nogales, Sonora are test-flying materials between Los Angeles and Monterrey in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, and driving the cargo between Monterrey and Nogales.
That route was found to be less expensive than flying the shorter path between Tucson or Phoenix to Hermosillo, Sonora, though Rubin added that companies are still spending significantly more on transportation than usual.
“Some companies really depend on trade, so they’d rather spend a lot of money to get their product down. They’d rather lose money than lose their customer,” he said.
Armando Goncalvez, program manager with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Tucson Field Office, said during the meeting that while CBP operations were being impacted by the heavy flows of asylum-seeking migrants, Nogales is still one of the luckier ports in terms of commercial crossings.
“For your customers, it’s important to let them know that even though our wait times are two-and-a-half hours, it’s seven hours somewhere else,” Goncalvez said, referring to the longer wait times at commercial ports in Texas.
Another measure that local maquiladoras are turning to, Rubin said, is hiring the Central American migrants waiting in Nogales, Sonora to ask for asylum in the United States.
“We’re trying to work with educating the migrants, saying what you need to do so they can get a work visa because some of them just have a humanitarian visa just allowing them to pass through,” Rubin said.
There are about 100 maquilas in Nogales, Sonora that employ roughly 40,000 people, though the sector was facing a shortage of approximately 1,600 workers as recently as last December.
Rubin added that the maquiladoras are also working to hire people who have been deported from the United States.
“We’re working with (all migrants), but there are some who are saying, ‘No, I don’t want to work here. I want to go to the U.S.,’” he said.