SANTA TERESA, New Mexico (Border Report) — One of the fastest-growing commercial ports of entry in the United States has a new director.
Fernando A. Thome, a 16-year veteran of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), took over the job on Wednesday — the same day President Trump signed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
That fact wasn’t lost on southern New Mexico industry leaders who say they’re ready to work with Thome as the new trade deal replacing the old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) brings additional international commerce opportunities to the region.
“(Santa Teresa), which used to be a small little quiet port, is now the fifth more important port in terms of imports and exports in the entire United States,” said Jerry Pacheco, president and CEO of the Border Industrial Association. “We need to redesign this port of entry to get the momentum going because we’re already bursting at the seams.”
Thome has been the port’s acting director since last year. He already has worked with Pacheco and Mexican federal officials to cope with the commercial growth and other challenges at Santa Teresa.
“We have monthly meetings with them. What we’ve built is a relationship based on trust, transparency and really a collaborative spirit,” Thome said. “The port of Santa Teresa is always ready to handle more commercial traffic. We have space and we have opportunity within the cargo lot to receive more traffic both inboud and outbound.”
As port director, Thome is in charge of both commercial and enforcement activities — from screening visitors for their immigration status to making sure the 600 commercial trucks that pass through Santa Teresa every day aren’t carrying contraband or agricultural pests.
Immigration enforcement, in particular, posed strong challenges last year at the height of the migrant surge. The port had to operate the cargo lanes understaffed after CBP reassigned an undisclosed number of agents from the port to processing facilities elsewhere in the El Paso Sector.
Pacheco said Thome handled the challenge and worked with industry leaders on modified hours of operation and overtime staffing.
“He has been a great partner with our industrial association. He has worked through issues like the migrant wave. But we focus on trade and he is very focused in growing the Santa Teresa area,” Pacheco said. “Today’s a very special day not only for him, but for us because it solidifies a relationship. … He has been one of the best (acting) port directors we’ve had.”
Thome began his career with CBP in the Office of Field Operations in 2003. Initially assigned to El Paso, he rose to supervisory officer, then administrative chief of the El Paso port of entry, and later acting port director of the Albuquerque port of entry (the airport). He later returned to El Paso on assignment as Border Security Coordinator before assuming the role of acting port director in Santa Teresa in January 2018.