El Paso is at the epicenter of America’s immigration crisis–but the border holdups are causing a much bigger supply chain nightmare

Here’s a message to Congress, political candidates, and the whole nation: El Paso being at the epicenter of the national battle over immigration is a scenario that’s costing us all money, time, and economic growth.

This crisis hurts our fair city far more than America’s media will ever tell you. But what if I told you that one of the worst things about the massive inflow of asylum seekers from Juarez, Mexico, through El Paso, Texas, was its impact on international shipping?

In early January, this was hammered home when Customs and Border Patrol (CBP)–for a second time–reassigned rail inspector agents from their normal work of inspecting trains to help process massive numbers of migrants.

Perhaps Washington had no idea that every 10-minute delay in processing the paperwork for railcars and trucks bringing goods across the border adds nearly $4 million a month to the cost of shipping those goods.

Consider, then, the impact of having to sit an extra hour a day at the border because too many CBP officers have been reassigned elsewhere. Do the math: That’s $4 million times 6 times 12 months a year–well over $280 million. But the truth is that many trains wait a full day or even longer–so multiply that $280 million by 24, and you begin to see the breadth and depth of the problem. And that’s not including produce spoilage.

To put it bluntly, the closure of the rail gateway at Eagle Pass costs an estimated $2.32 million per day, and the rail shutdowns at Eagle Pass and El Paso last winter caused a $200 million daily loss for the U.S. economy.

Before the onslaught of millions seeking entry into the United States, the residents of El Paso and Juarez, most of whom have relatives on both sides of the Rio Grande, traveled freely between the twin cities that together are home to 2.5 million people. Juarez is flush with manufacturing, mostly of goods to be shipped north through El Paso bound for cities across the nation.

But today those routine border crossings have become nightmares for shippers–and not just because of the extra cost (and pollution) from sitting in long lines at checkpoints. Truckers and trainmen spend more time away from home, delivery schedules are disrupted at factories and their products’ ultimate destinations. As a result, consumers pay more.

As CEO of the 125-year-old El Paso Chamber of Commerce, a big part of my job is to advocate for businesses that move goods and services across the border in both directions–and to encourage new businesses to locate in El Paso. The current border crisis is threatening our trajectory.

Despite being home to Fort Bliss, one of the nation’s largest military bases, El Paso is seemingly a forgotten city to the national press. One reason for this is its distance from just about anywhere else–430 miles from Phoenix and much farther from other major Texas cities such as Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston. El Paso is not even on the main Texas power grid.

A fifth of all U.S.-Mexico trade crosses the border at El Paso–and yet the mainstream media darkens our doors only when migrants rush into barbed wire fences. Maybe they are just unaware of El Paso’s importance to Americans hundreds, even thousands, of miles away.

Among the goods shipped through our city are the largest number of life-saving medical devices and microchips from the 17 factories crowded into Chihuahua State.

Trade just between Mexico and Texas alone rose to $285 billion in 2023, and the binational metroplex that includes El Paso, Juarez, and Las Cruces is the fifth largest manufacturing center in the Western Hemisphere, with over 500 manufacturing facilities.

The Hunt Institute at the University of Texas-El Paso has additionally come up with some startling statistics about the impact of overtaxed CBP personnel (and thus shipping delays). Hunt’s data show just how the suspension of train inspections at the border, which affects 10,000 railcars transporting crucial goods to American cities, harms the businesses we serve.

We in El Paso see rail traffic disruptions as part of a recurring pattern of knee-jerk reactions that impede international trade without achieving the primary goal of preventing contraband from entry into the United States.

America’s demand for labor has brought prosperity across the Rio Grande, such that there is no industrial space left to lease in the metropolis across the border. Even the industrial park in southeastern New Mexico is growing rapidly. However, El Paso has a hard time attracting industry, in part because the little national reporting we receive from both the Right and the Left pours gasoline on an increasingly hot fire.

What’s ridiculous about the public image of El Paso is that our city has a low crime rate, affordable housing, nearby mountains, and a plentiful workforce. What we are lacking is the investment from corporations and manufacturers to put our people to work.

Make no mistake: Much of the fault for that shortfall belongs to unserious politicians of both parties who have chosen El Paso as a focal point of the immigration debate.

Andrea Adkins-Hutchins is the CEO of El Paso Chamber Of Commerce.

More must-read commentary published by Fortune:

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  • Intel CEO: ‘Our goal is to have at least 50% of the world’s advanced semiconductors produced in the U.S. and Europe by the end of the decade’

The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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