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Border officials crack down on attempts to bring eggs into the U.S.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Whether it's toilet paper during the pandemic or cheaper gas or, most recently, eggs, when goods become scarce or expensive here in the U.S., many people cross the border to shop in Mexico. But it is illegal to bring eggs from Mexico into the United States. As KTEP's Angela Kocherga reports, Customs and Border Protection officials have been cracking down.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: El Paso.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: El Paso. (Speaking Spanish).

ANGELA KOCHERGA, BYLINE: Hundreds of people wait in long lines at this border crossing between Juarez and El Paso, Texas.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

KOCHERGA: After U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers check immigration documents, they ask people if they're bringing anything from Mexico, including food.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: No, no.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Food, especially meats - nothing like that.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: No.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: No chicken eggs, nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: No.

KOCHERGA: CBP officers have recently started asking everyone about eggs because they've seen a spike in the number of people trying to bring them across the border. Charles Payne is the agriculture supervisor at the Port of El Paso.

CHARLES PAYNE: The main reason we're here is to prevent the entry of insects, plant diseases and, of course, animal diseases.

KOCHERGA: Raw eggs can carry disease. The U.S. is already coping with its own outbreak of avian flu. That's led to a shortage of hens, higher prices and more people trying to bring in less expensive eggs from Mexico.

PAYNE: So the fact that we're seeing so much more, we're assuming, is a direct relation to the price that they're paying in the United States.

BRITTANY PEREZ: It's, like, crazy.

KOCHERGA: Brittany Perez says she can't believe the price of eggs. She was loading groceries in her car outside a supermarket in El Paso, where a family-sized carton of 18 eggs costs about $9.

PEREZ: And so many families, you know, depend on the eggs, you know, for protein when they can't afford, like, poultry or beef or fish, you know? So, yeah, it's hard.

KOCHERGA: By comparison, across the border in Juarez, eggs are about half the price.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Speaking Spanish).

KOCHERGA: In this supermarket, there's a giant display of neatly stacked trays of gleaming, white eggs. Socorro Chavez grabs one for her cart.

SOCORRO CHAVEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KOCHERGA: She says eggs are cheaper here than in El Paso, but you can't take them across the border, though eye-catching displays like this one have enticed some to try. Along the southern border, CBP has stopped more than 2,000 people from bringing eggs into the U.S. since November. That's more than four times what they saw during the same period the previous year. Individuals risk being fined up to $300.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Did you bring back anything with you from Mexico?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: No.

KOCHERGA: Back at the El Paso crossing, CBP Agriculture Supervisor Payne says trained dogs help sniff out food people routinely try to smuggle into the country.

PAYNE: We get a lot of baloney coming through the ports of entry as well as things like pork chorizo, ham lunch meats. We get a lot of fruit - oranges, apples, mangos, guavas.

KOCHERGA: And avocados. CBP officers expect to see more of those coming from Mexico ahead of the Super Bowl, when avocado consumption surges. People are allowed to bring them across if they remove the seed, which can harbor pests, which means you better make that guacamole quickly before the avocados turn brown. For NPR News, I'm Angela Kocherga in El Paso. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emmy winning multimedia journalist Angela Kocherga is news director with KTEP and Borderzine. She is also multimedia editor with ElPasoMatters.org, an independent news organization.
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