Texas Slows Cross-Border Trucks from Matamoros to a Crawl Amid Immigrant Surge

At one bridge, Gov. Abbott replaying tactic of using safety inspections to effectively halt commerce, to pressure officials in Mexican state of Tamaulipas to block illegal immigration

By Todd Bensman on May 3, 2023
Laredo Bridge
Laredo Bridge truck jam in April 2022 resulting from Texas DPS commercial vehicle safety inspections. Three Texas State Trooper Commercial Vehicle Inspectors were responsible. Photo courtesy of Jaeson Jones.

AUSTIN, Texas – In a reprise of a controversial diplomatic pressure tactic against Mexico from last year, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has ordered tedious truck safety inspections once again that have effectively shut down a major commercial trucking artery from Mexico, the Center for Immigration Studies has confirmed.

The deployment of Texas Department of Public Safety vehicle safety inspection officers Tuesday has all but closed the trucking lanes at Veterans International Bridge at Los Tomates leading from Matamoros into Brownsville. That bridge’s two trucking lanes are open daily from 6 a.m. to midnight.

“We’re doing 100 percent inspections, which means every truck will be inspected,” Texas DPS spokesman Chris Olivares confirmed to CIS on May 3.

“It’s indefinite,” Olivares said. “We want to make sure the trucks are safe and they’re following state and federal regulations to make sure they are operating safety on Texas roadways.”

This week’s resurrection of the inspections regimen comes as Mexican authorities in the state of Tamaulipas last week began to allow tens of thousands of immigrants to cross the Rio Grande from Matamoros — enticed by the Biden administration’s decision to release many of these border-crossers into the American interior. The Biden administration and many experts expect the surge to worsen in the coming days, ahead of the May 11 lifting of the federal Title 42 rapid expulsion policy.

While the Texas state police agency may publicly insist these inspections are for road safety purposes, circumstances more persuasively suggest the Texas governor once again hopes to use this hard-nosed trade disruption tactic to economically pressure his Mexican counterparts into slowing a powerful, gathering surge of illegal immigrant crossings that is now underway from Matamoros into Brownsville, and also from Juarez into El Paso, at the other end of the Texas-Mexico border.

Reprise of an Impactful Texas Reprisal

One year ago, Abbott’s truck inspections tactic brought four Mexican governors to the bargaining table to sign agreements that their state police agencies would stop a 15,000-immigrant caravan on its way to the border and to then work more generally with Texas to slow illegal immigration from the Mexican side.

After the gubernatorial agreements were signed, Abbott dropped any pretense for the truck inspections regimen and made it clear that, should authentic Mexican intervention ease up, he would order the truck inspections again.

Thousands of illegal immigrants began crossing and turning themselves in for processing in late April from Matamoros to Brownsville
Thousands of illegal immigrants began crossing and turning themselves in for processing in late April from Matamoros to Brownsville. Photo by Todd Bensman.


At the signing with the Nuevo Leon governor last April, for instance, Abbott warned the safety inspections at the Colombia-Solidarity bridge at Laredo would only go away “as long as Nuevo Leon executes this historic agreement”.

As detailed at length in a chapter of my book, Overrun: How Joe Biden Unleashed the Greatest Border Crisis in US History, Abbott’s bridges campaign of 2022 may have proved to be the most impactful of many the Texas governor has trotted out. Texas, after all, has been at the epicenter of a mass-migration event that has broken all U.S. records, resulting in at least five million illegal border crossings since Biden entered office and now continuing into a third year.

“From the day those governments signed on the agreement lines, their state police forces conducted continuous tactical operations all over northern Mexico in close coordination with Texas DPS and the Texas National Guard, working over the so-called ‘hot spots’ as they erupted,” I concluded. In mid-June of that year, the book recounts, for instance, Coahuila state police mounted a far-reaching roadblock operation that systematically halted buses carrying migrants all over that state, detaining and deporting some in defiance of the Mexican federal government's will.

But ultimately, not enough information was ever available to know for certain how much the Mexicans actually slowed immigration over time.

Political Risk

Disrupting trade comes with some political risk for the Texas governor. Texas businesses are hurt, too, alongside Mexican ones, and in April 2022 several important Texas trade associations voiced loud and written complaints about spoiled products and missed delivery deadlines.

At one point during the 2022 inspections campaign, Mexican truckers drew cartel arson attacks when they attempted to block southbound Texas trucks in retaliation. Several days of fires and gun battles with police ensued.

“It’s only a break-glass solution for when things get really bad,” one senior Abbott official told CIS recently.

The governor did not break that glass again until December 2022 amid a massive immigrant surge into El Paso, when his truck safety inspections all but closed the trucking lanes from Juarez.

Large numbers of illegal immigrants are once again overwhelming federal defenses in El Paso, leaving crowds of unprocessed immigrants in the streets of that West Texas city across from Juarez.

Olivares said he did not know if Abbott would order slow, tedious truck safety inspections again at that important commercial crossing.

The bridge from Matamoros is the only one “as of right now”, Olivares said.

Whatever happens next, clearly, the governor sees this moment as a time to break the glass.