What did Greg Abbott’s border inspections turn up? Oil leaks, flat tires and zero drugs

Mechanics fixed trucks last week at the inspection station near the Pharr International Bridge. (Jason Garza For The Texas Tribune, Jason Garza For The Texas Tribune)

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State troopers ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott to inspect every commercial truck coming from Mexico earlier this month — which clogged international trade with Mexico — found zero drugs, weapons or any other type of contraband, according to data released by the Department of Public Safety to The Texas Tribune.

Earlier this month, Abbott ordered troopers to thoroughly inspect every commercial truck coming from Mexico’s four border states in what he described as an effort to stop illegal drugs and migrants from being smuggled into Texas. His order for increased state inspections was part of his response to the Biden administration’s announcement that it will lift Title 42 — the pandemic-era health order used by federal immigration officials to expel migrants, including asylum-seekers, at the U.S.-Mexico border. The expiration of the order is expected to increase the number of migrants seeking entry to the U.S.

Over eight days, starting April 8, troopers conducted more than 4,100 inspections of trucks. Troopers didn’t find any contraband but took 850 trucks off the road for various violations related to their equipment. Other truckers were given warnings, and at least 345 were cited for things such as underinflated tires, broken turn signals and oil leaks.

DPS Director Steve McCraw said at a Friday news conference with Abbott that the reason troopers hadn’t found any drugs or migrants in commercial trucks is because drug cartels “don’t like troopers stopping them, certainly north of the border, and they certainly don’t like 100% inspections of commercial vehicles on the bridges. And once that started, we’ve seen a decreased amount of trafficking across bridges — common sense.”

But Adam Isacson, director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, an advocacy group for human rights in the Americas, said it’s not likely cartels stopped the smuggling of drugs because of the state’s inspections. He said many illegal drugs smuggled into the United States are hidden in small compartments or spare tires of people’s vehicles going through international bridges for tourists. He said if smugglers were trying to hide illegal drugs in a commercial truck, it’s most likely federal immigration officials found them before the trucks were directed to the DPS secondary inspections.

In this video, see the impact of Abbott’s increased border inspections on produce importers, fruit stand vendors and truck drivers.

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“It just seems odd to me that DPS would be that much of a deterrent for smugglers deciding whether to bring something after already passing through the gauntlet of CBP,” he said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection routinely inspects commercial cargo coming from Mexico for illegal drugs and people being smuggled as soon as truckers cross the international bridges. CBP called Texas’ inspections duplicative and “unnecessary.”

The state inspections created a backlog of 18-wheelers on both sides of the border, with truckers reporting delays of several hours up to a few days, when it usually takes between 20 minutes and a couple of hours for commercial trucks to cross after they’ve been inspected by CBP. The delays also resulted in rotten produce and lost business for grocers.

The state’s inspections at eight commercial bridges that connect Texas cities with Mexican cities in Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas ended Friday after Abbott signed agreements with the four Mexican governors that they would increase security measures to prevent the smuggling of drugs and migrants. Abbott has said he would bring back the secondary inspections if the governors’ security initiatives don’t decrease the number of migrants attempting to cross the border.

Abbott said the deals with the four governors were “historic,” calling them an example of how border states can work together on immigration. But three of the four Mexican governors said they will simply continue security measures they put in place before Abbott ordered the state inspections.

Mexico is among the United States’ largest trading partners. The total trade between the two countries amounted to $56.25 billion in February, according to recent government data. Texas’ biggest ports of entry — Port Laredo, Ysleta, Pharr International Bridge, Eagle Pass, El Paso, Brownsville International Bridge and Del Rio International Bridge — accounted for nearly 65% of the total trade between the U.S. and Mexico in 2021.

Reporters James Barragán and Mitchell Ferman contributed to this report.