Congressional Black Caucus tours Pharr bridge port of entry

PHARR — Eight members of the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus walked up a ramp and into the Pharr Port of Entry yesterday. Many, who were from all over the country and the Caribbean, hadn’t been to the border before.

Yesterday was a quick education, thanks to an invite from U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas.

They walked inside the port and watched a dog sniff for illegal drugs and weapons.

“Impressive,” said U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-New York.

Clarke was born in Brooklyn and now represents that district. She had never been to Texas, let alone the border.

She didn’t know what to expect about the border, only that in meetings the border comes up. Clarke, and others, said it was important to come here so they can make smart, educated decisions regarding the border going forward.

During the brief visit inside the port, Customs and Border Protection officers showed the technologies and depth of how they screen the trucks and vehicles coming across.

It’s not just weapons and drugs. There’s screening for harmful animals, too. When someone realized Clarke was from New York, he told her they screen for the Asian long-horned beetle.

This beetle is native to Asia but has hitchhiked around the world by infesting wood packaging used in international trade.

The New Jersey Department of Agriculture said the beetle has caused serious tree losses in the New York area.

Clarke was impressed.

“It was wild,” Clarke said afterward. “The depths with which they inspect is remarkable.”

After their quick port tour, the group sat around a table as Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez welcomed them and Pharr Bridge Director Luis Bazan taught them about the bridge and its future.

They were impressed with it being the sixth biggest import bridge and first in produce in the country, including tops in avocados. Bazan pointed out there are typically around 2,200 trucks crossing northbound daily.

The group asked plenty of questions, like how the trade zone works, what the tolls are, the dangers of the area and more.

Bazan and Pharr City Manager Juan Guerra answered many of the questions, including how the local economy thrives when the peso devalues. Guerra explained how many come over to shop because of that.

Bazan and Guerra also taught them about the $3.50 southbound toll on cars and higher on trucks.

“What’s your (yearly) toll?” Clarke said.

“About $12 million,” Guerra said.

“Whoa!” Clarke said.

The seven other U.S. representatives, Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio; Emmanuel Cleaver, D-Missouri; Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio; Hank Johnson, D-Georgia; Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas; Stacey Plaskett, D-Virgin Islands; and Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-New Jersey, also looked genuinely curious and interested with their questions and reactions.

Guerra pointed out that Pharr Police received a $485,000 check from CBP and Homeland Security Thursday for their assistance in a seizure.

“The tolls and that?” Clarke laughed. “You guys are really making out down here.”

Coleman said it was important for her to see the extent of the security measures at the bridge, especially since she serves on the Committee on Homeland Security.

She also didn’t have many expectations, although she didn’t expect there to be private farm land next to the bridge.

“And I didn’t expect it to be so sprawling,” Coleman said of the bridge. “It’s an impressive operation.”

Johnson, from Dallas, has been to South Texas. She remembered when Interstate 69 was built. She explained how much more difficult it was before that highway existed.

But that was years ago. Now, much of Congress is not properly educated about the border, she said, and it’s tougher to make the proper choices without a depth of understanding.

“But with visits like this,” Johnson said, “we can make more informed decisions.”