Skip to content
Quick Start for:

V. Findings

The border crossing process involves a complex set of procedures implementing the specific legislative and regulatory mandates on commodity trade, immigration, transportation safety, and environmental regulation. International cargo, vehicles, and drivers are inspected by federal and state agency personnel to ensure that all goods and services entering and exiting the United States do so in accordance with federal and state laws and regulations. Exhibit 7 summarizes the functions and participants involved in the commercial vehicle border crossing process, followed by an overview of findings according to federal, state and local responsibility.

Exhibit 7
From Mexico into Texas: Border Crossing Process and Participants

Pre-Border Crossing Activities in Mexico The Bridge Crossing Exit Inspection and U.S. Crossing Activities Release into the Border Zone
Preparation of documentation:
  • Mexican shipper
  • Mexican customs brokers
  • U.S. customs brokers
  • U.S. Federal Agencies
  • Mexican drayage* driver
International bridges are located in urban areas:
  • Some international bridges carry non-commercial and commercial traffic.
  • Some international bridges carry hazardous material only during certain hours.o Some international bridges carry no hazardous material.
  • The hours of operation vary along the border.
  • Older bridges are landlocked with little room for expansion.
Review and inspection of documentation, cargo, vehicle and driver:
  • Primary Inspection
  • Secondary Inspection - closer review of documentation and cargo.
  • Other inspections drug interdiction, and motor vehicle safety.
  • Inspectors from U.S. Customs, INS, USDOT, DPS and other federal and state agencies as needed.
Final review of documentation and release of commercial vehicle:
  • Commercial vehicle may be stopped by DPS or city police officers for a motor vehicle safety inspection after it leaves the border station.
  • Commercial vehicle unloads cargo in the border zone to be picked up by a U.S. carrier to final destination.
  • Commercial vehicle drivers returns to Mexico (sometimes with a load).

* Laredo, Texas Sources: U.S. Customs Services, Immigration and Naturalization Services, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Department of Transportation, Rio Grande Valley Customs Brokers Association, and International Bridge Operators for Cameron County, McAllen, and Laredo, Texas.

General Finding

The law enforcement and regulatory functions of federal and state agencies involved in the border crossing process at the Texas-Mexico ports of entry involve separate legal jurisdictions. Therefore under current federal and state law, one individual cannot perform the Customs, immigration, and motor carrier enforcement functions.

The U.S. Customs Service is the nation’s major border enforcement agency and is responsible for enforcing some 400 international traffic and trade laws and regulations for 40 other government agencies.[69] The Immigration and Naturalization Service, a federal agency within the Department of Justice, administers the nation’s federal immigration laws. INS has the authority to demand appropriate documentation from every person entering the U.S. at a port of entry.

Two state agencies, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas National Guard, who enforce federal and state laws and safety regulations respectively, may impede commercial traffic at border ports of entry. The Texas Department of Public Safety enforces motor carrier driver and safety regulations at the border. Texas Department of Public Safety troopers are not located full-time at the ports of entry and may be asked to leave at any time by the U.S. Customs Service.

The Texas National Guard, under the jurisdiction of the Texas Adjutant General’s Department, is part of a drug interdiction federal task force and functions strictly as support for U.S. Customs. One hundred National Guardsmen are involved in this operation and their presence frees up U.S. Customs officers to conduct customs inspections

While U.S. Customs and INS inspectors are authorized to check for proper commercial operator’s credentials, i.e., commercial drivers license, insurance permits, overweight permits, driver duty records, they are not authorized to conduct motor vehicle inspections. DPS troopers are not authorized to enforce the U.S. international trade or immigration laws.

Federal Findings

1. U.S. Customs and INS inspectors are directly involved in every commercial and non-commercial border crossing.

U.S. Customs and INS inspectors are the major federal agencies at the ports of entry. Other federal and state inspectors become involved depending on the type of cargo (for example, agricultural products) or if Customs/INS determines a closer review of the documentation, cargo, or vehicle is needed.

Customs’ primary inspection of commercial vehicles and drivers is a one-stop function where the inspector makes several determinations: (1) is the entry documentation on the cargo, the vehicle, and the driver complete; (2) does the shipment need to be referred to the secondary inspection area for an agricultural products inspection, drug interdiction review by drug sniffing dogs or x-ray inspection, a vehicle and driver safety inspection by USDOT or DPS; or (3) does the cargo, vehicle and driver meet all entry requirements and are cleared to enter the U.S.

2. The border crossing process involves a series of stops that often result in congestion on the international bridges and in the border stations.

The border crossing process involves several sequential steps, each step requiring non-commercial and commercial vehicles to stop—sometimes briefly, sometimes for longer periods.

Stop 1 During pre-border crossing activities in Mexico, commercial vehicles stop to prepare entry documentation. Mexican customs brokers release the vehicles in batches rather than as the documentation is completed. The batch release practice, in effect, acts as a “capacitor”, storing or building a charge of trucks to release into the border crossing process. This practice is a major source of congestion for northbound commercial traffic. [70]

Stop 2 All trucks stop to pay tolls before they are allowed on the bridge. [71] Since the tolls are manually collected, on most bridges the trucks pause and this stop cascades back into the trucks that are following.

Stop 3 Several international bridges do not have sufficient U.S. Customs and INS personnel to operate all of the entry gates. [72] As the number of vehicles approaching the international bridges increases, long lines of commercial vehicles form and traffic on the bridges becomes congested. Some international bridges accept only commercial vehicles, but due to the increasing volume of truck traffic, lines often form. At international bridges which accept commercial and non-commercial traffic, the volume of vehicles also results in long lines for each type of traffic as U.S. Customs and INS inspectors process trucks and/or passenger vehicles through the border station.

Stop 4 Commercial and non-commercial vehicles stop at the entrance to the border station for a primary inspection by U.S. Customs or INS inspectors. Non-commercial vehicles stay on the bridge until cleared to proceed into the U.S., whereas commercial vehicles go to the commercial primary inspection area away from the entrance to the bridge.

Stop 5 If the Customs or INS inspector determines a closer review or inspection is needed, the non-commercial vehicle is directed to a secondary inspection area where a Customs inspector and/or a Texas National Guardsman conduct the secondary inspection.

If the Customs inspector during the primary inspection of the commercial vehicle detects a problem with the cargo documentation, or cargo, or vehicle, the commercial vehicle is sent to the secondary inspection area. The commercial vehicle is parked while the driver corrects the documentation problem, or the cargo is inspected.

Stop 6 After clearing the secondary inspection area, the commercial vehicle may undergo supplemental vehicle or drug interdiction inspections by Customs inspectors, Texas National Guardsmen, and/or USDOT inspectors or DPS officers.

Stop 7 The commercial vehicle stops at the secondary inspection exit for a final brief review of documentation.

Stop 8 After exiting the U.S. Customs lot, a commercial vehicle in the border zone may be stopped by DPS officers or certified city police officers for a roadside motor vehicle safety inspection.

3. The lines to cross the bridges are created in Mexico.

The large volume of non-commercial and commercial crossings over international bridges at urban cities in conjunction with Mexican and U.S. Customs’ processes create long lines at the border. Critics blame bridge crossing procedures that start in Mexico and U.S. Customs management practices for the long waits commuters encounter at international bridges. [73] Staffing shortages continue to be a problem despite adding more than 230 Customs inspectors and 60 drug-sniffing dogs—a 41 percent increase in the former and 73 percent increase in the latter program respectively—for the South Texas border ports of entry since 1992.[74]

4. The majority of referrals to the secondary inspection stop are for deficiencies in entry documentation.

More than half of the trucks that arrive at the primary inspection point are released for entry into the U.S. The others are directed to the secondary inspection to clarify documentation, for cargo-specific inspections (agricultural products), or for cause—such as the carrier, or the cargo, originating from a high drug-risk area in Mexico.

5. U.S. and Mexican laws limit the operation of U.S. and Mexican carriers to the border zone regions.

Often, because of U.S. and Mexican law, and local custom, the border crossing process involves changes of equipment; separate freight forwarders and customs brokers, and shipments are shifted between separate warehouses and terminals on their way to and from the ports of entry.

Two factors account for this hands-off process. First, implementation of the December 18, 1995, timeline to lift NAFTA geographic access limits provisions was delayed. And second, Mexican law limits U.S. and Canadian carriers to operating in a zone encompassing an area 20 kilometers parallel to the international border with the U.S. This situation may soon change.

The implementation of NAFTA and attendant reduced tariffs resulted in a large increase in overland trade shipped through U.S.-Mexico ports of entry, but particularly through the Texas-Mexico ports of entry. The failure to implement the NAFTA trucking access provisions underscored the importance of the short-haul drayage operations in some ports of entry along the Texas-Mexico border.

On November 30, 2000, a dispute resolution panel rejected the U.S. law that limits Mexican trucks to within 20 miles of the U.S. border. [76] It is not clear if the ruling applies only to the law limiting Mexican and U.S. trucks to the border states of both countries, or if the geographic access limits have been lifted completely, thereby allowing U.S., Canadian, and Mexican trucks complete access to each other’s countries. The ruling is under review and a final determination will not be made until February 2001. Meanwhile, Mexican and U.S. commercial trucks will continue to operate in designated commercial zones along the U.S.-Mexico border.

State Findings

6. State government functions regulating commerce or involved in law enforcement activities at the border do not impede traffic at the border crossings.

State agencies at the border collect cigarette and liquor tax (Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission - TABC) and conduct commercial vehicle and driver safety inspections (Texas Department of Public Safety - DPS).

TABC compliance officers do not interact with commercial traffic. But TABC compliance officers collect excise taxes on imported alcoholic beverages and cigarettes from pedestrians and non-commercial vehicles crossing from Mexico who declare to the officer they are bringing liquor or cigarettes back from Mexico. TABC collectors are located on the international bridges, on sidewalks in the border station and in a booth at the border station’s non-commercial exit.[77]

DPS troopers are not assigned to the border stations on a full-time basis. They do not inspect every vehicle or driver passing through the border stations. When DPS troopers inspect a vehicle in the border station, the vehicle is pulled out of the traffic flow. DPS troopers conduct roadside inspections on commercial vehicles at selected sites out of the traffic flow.

7. Mexican commercial vehicles are exempt from registering in Texas, including a temporary permit, under certain conditions. [78]

Mexican commercial vehicles, however, must meet registration requirements involving insurance, motor carrier registration, a hazardous materials and waste license or permit, and oversize/overweight permits, if applicable, and a fuel permit if the vehicle uses diesel fuel. [79]

Foreign motor carriers, foreign motor private carriers and drivers must deal with at least four state agencies, depending on the type of cargo, to obtain the required permits and registrations. The permitting process involves the Texas Department of Public Safety, U.S. Department of Transportation, Texas Department of Transportation, and the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. The Texas State Comptroller’s office issues fuel permits for certain carriers.

8. The Texas-Mexico ports of entry are diverse economic entities.

The major international bridges are located in urban cities along the Texas-Mexico border. Several of the urban international bridges are land-constrained, and expansion of the border station facilities would be difficult.

The volume of traffic and the type of cargo that crosses the international bridges to the U.S. is determined in large part by the industries concentrated on the Mexican side of the border. For example, the heavy concentration of maquiladoras in Juárez, Chihuahua, generates hundreds of truck crossings over El Paso’s international bridges. Shipments destined for Mexico, in one case, crossing at the Laredo port of entry after being off-loaded in the border zone, are most likely headed for Monterrey—Mexico’s most industrialized city—and to cities in the interior. Laredo’s short-haul drayage process generates thousands of border crossings annually.

9. State motor carrier and vehicle safety regulations are in place should the geographic limits on Mexican trucking be lifted.

In anticipation of implementation of the NAFTA trucking provisions that will lift the geographic access limits on Mexican trucking, the 1995 Texas Legislature approved regulations for international carriers to be enforced by the Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas Department of Public Safety. [80] According to current regulations, international commercial carriers that stay in the border zones are not required to register. International commercial carriers that leave the border zones are required to register annually, or obtain temporary permits of 72 or 144 hours, or an annual license plate.[81]

Local Findings

10. Local custom limits the operation of U.S. and Mexican carriers in the Texas and Mexico border zones, requiring the use of drayage carriers.

U.S. and Mexican carriers at some Texas-Mexico ports of entry do not use drayage carriers to bring Mexican cargo into Texas. But shippers transporting or receiving merchandise to or from Mexico through Laredo, Texas must contract with drayage carriers to transport the shipment across the border.

In theory, the drayage system requires carriers/shippers from the U.S. or Mexico to deliver their cargo to the border zone and hire short-haul carriers to take it across the border where long-haul trucks pick up the cargo and deliver the load to the destination.

In practice, the process is not so simple. At the Laredo port of entry, when goods are shipped from the U.S. to Mexico, if the cargo is delivered to the carrier’s local terminal, the forwarding agent will hire a drayage carrier to transport the cargo from the carrier’s terminal to the forwarding agent’s place of business. From there the Mexican drayage carrier transports the shipment to a carrier yard in Mexico to be picked up by a Mexican carrier which then transports the shipment to the destination in Mexico.

At the Laredo port of entry, when goods are shipped from Mexico to the U.S., the Mexican carrier delivers the shipment to a cargo area in the Mexican border zone where the carrier unhooks the trailer and a drayage carrier transports the shipment to the a warehouse in the Texas border zone. A U.S. carrier picks up the shipment at the Texas warehouse and delivers it to the U.S. destination.[82]

The drayage system used to transport cargo across the Texas-Mexico border is a time-consuming operation that could be a significant contributor to congestion along the border. According to one estimate, 40 percent of the trucks crossing the border at Laredo are empty. [83] Despite its drawbacks, the short-haul drayage operations along the Texas-Mexico border have become the preferred way of doing business.