COLUMBUS, N.M. – U.S. Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists assigned to the Columbus port of entry are busier than ever processing dozens of chile imports from Mexico on a daily basis. CBP’s operation “Hot Chile” is now underway to address the traffic. The workload is expected to peak shortly.
CBP agriculture specialist will process between 90 and 100 shipments of chile a day during the busiest part of the import season. During the 2021 chile import season CBP agriculture specialists processed just under 11,000 shipments of chile from Mexico. That volume is expected to increase during the current 2022 import period. The number of imports has increased substantially annually. In 2016 the total number of imports was just over 8,900.
“CBP is addressing this increased workload by assigning additional agriculture specialists to the Columbus port from other locations to assist during this period of heightened activity,” said acting CBP Columbus Port Director Sam Jimenez.
The added attention to the volume of shipments is important. During the 2021 chile import season, the work performed by agriculture specialists resulted in 119 pest interceptions. A review of those pests found that 25 were considered actionable and those shipments were returned to Mexico.
“Chile is a huge crop for farmers in New Mexico so it is important that CBP agriculture specialists identify and stop any dangerous pests from making it into the state and potentially spreading to domestic operations,” said Jimenez.
All arriving shipments are subject to a non-intrusive x-ray scan. Following that a CBP agriculture specialist will perform a physical inspection of the shipment, which includes searching for pests, disease, and contamination such as soil or federal noxious weed seed.
If a pest is found in a shipment CBP will immediately forward digital images to a U.S. Department of Agriculture identifier in El Paso to expedite the process. The USDA officer will make an immediate determination as to whether the shipment can be released or must be returned.
The chile import season begins in late July. The busiest period is September and October. Imports are reduced through November and generally end in mid-December. The Port of Columbus remains in constant contact with importers and stakeholders to best address any fluctuations in traffic and processing.