JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – Some Juarez maquiladoras have stopped hiring and are bracing for possible layoffs if a limited strike against Detroit automakers prolongs or expands, a border industry leader says.
To make matters worse, the latest migrant surge in El Paso has forced U.S. Customs and Border Protection to reassign officers from commercial operations at at least one port of entry to help with staffing at overcrowded processing centers. The City of El Paso’s migrant dashboard online reporting tool shows CBP had 5,575 migrants in custody at El Paso Sector facilities on Wednesday, up from 4,100 on Monday.
The lack of sufficient CBP inspectors at bridges means truckers hauling assembled products from factories in Mexico to distribution centers in the United States are waiting longer at border crossings, said Thor Salayandia, vice president of the Mexican Chamber of Industry.
“Here in Juarez and most of the border cities, we depend a lot on the automotive industry. This strike we’re having in the United States impacts the border directly,” Salayandia said. “Half of the people that work in the maquiladora industry in Juarez depend on the automobile industry. What can we expect in the future? Layoffs, and we could possibly have an employment crisis.”
Sixty percent of Juarez’s 330 U.S.-run assembly plants are linked directly to the production of auto components or manufacture electronics that may be used in cars.
“We calculate that 150,000 people in Juarez work in the automotive industry. But if you add other border cities from Tijuana to Reynosa, we are talking about perhaps 400,000 people,” he said.
If the United Auto Workers strike is a ticking time bomb for border industry, the migrant crisis is a raging fire; Salayandia said the maquiladora industry is already losing millions of dollars a day due to increased wait times for their cargo.
That amount includes overtime pay for drivers and idle times at factories that have no trucks to ship out their products to the United States.
“Everybody is in such a tight ‘just in time’ inventory and delivery system that nobody wants to carry excess inventory,” added Jerry Pacheco, president and CEO of the New Mexico-based Border Industrial Association. “The closing of (Bridge of the Americas commercial operations) causes delays, so if you have a truck that’s running two to three times a day across the border to Juarez to bring in product to the United States or vice versa, that truck is now running once or twice, that disrupts your ability to get product to your client.”
Also, hundreds of migrants have been moving from South and Central Mexico to border cities atop of trains in the past few days. That is prompting Mexican officials to stop more trains for random inspection. Those trains often carry parts for the border assembly plants or assembled products from Central Mexico to the U.S. That, too, is adding to the delays, Salayandia said.
While Pacheco expects the latest migrant surge to go down eventually, his Mexican counterpart is not as optimistic.
“As long as we don’t have a coherent migrant policy in place, we will continue to be a side casualty of this absence of policy,” Salayandia said.