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Craving for contraband Bologna from Mexico drives smuggling attempts

CBP officers seize Mexican Bologna
U.S. Customs and Border Protection

EL PASO -- U.S. customs and Border Protection officers continue to seize large loads of drugs on the Texas-Mexico border.  Smuggling during the pandemic also includes a comfort food that is contraband Mexican bologna. 

Miriam Ortiz, a loyal shopper at La Mejor Texas Meat shop understands the popularity of the lunchmeat. She was at the meat market buying dinner for her family including steaks and some short ribs.  

She laments she can’t buy Mexican bologna at any in El Paso or any other store in the U.S. The best-known brand is Chimex. “I love Chimex and it’s very frustrating because we can’t cross it either,” she said.  

The bologna is not allowed across the border because it’s made with pork and could introduce a foreign animal disease into the U.S.  But that doesn’t stop people from trying to bring the meat into the country.

“It’s loved and they crave it for the most part. They smuggle it across because they’re able to sell it per se under the table,” said CBP Supervisory agriculture specialist in El PasoKatherine Vasquez. 

In the more than 20 years Vasquez has inspected food products at border crossings, Mexican bologna has persisted as one of the most popular prohibited food items.  The contraband in the form of red-colored rolls turn up time again.  “They call them chubs those round rolls,” she said.

The chubs weigh about 10 pounds each. While some are for personal consumption, larger quantities carefully concealed in cars and trucks are smuggled for profit. The price of a roll at least doubles once it crosses the border. “Say anywhere from $30-40.00 to say further north up to $80 for one single roll,” according to Vasquez.

Mexican bologna bridge seized at Bridge of the Americas
Credit U.S. Customs and Border Protection / CBP
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers seized a large load of illegal bologna from Mexico at the Bridge of the Americas in El Paso.

Mexican bologna has turned up across Texas and the rest of the country. Some of those trying to sneak the sausages across the border these days are people who’ve lost their jobs during the pandemic, says Vasquez. “People who normally wouldn’t do it are engaging in this type of smuggling activity,” she explained.

Since mid-May CBP officers at border crossings in El Paso have seized at least 1000 pounds of bologna. One man had 35 rolls hidden under blankets in the backseat of his SUV along with nine rolls of another illegal lunchmeat. Though the border is closed to essential travel, U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents cross back and forth. CBP cannot stop them from returning home to the U.S. side of the border.  The penalty for not declaring a commercial amount is a $1000 fine.  

So has Vasquez tasted the bologna?  “No, she said chucking. “I know that it takes forever to burn.” CBP officers destroy the bologna by incinerating it at the ports of entry. And it does smell like a big hot dog roast.

Back at the La Mejor Texas Meat Shop, the manager Raul Burrell takes pride in his store. He said customers come for quality, freshness and prices.”  

Mexican-style meat market
Credit Angela Kocherga / KTEP News
La Mejor Texas Meat Shop in El Paso offers customers a taste of Mexico in the type of cuts of beef, house marinades and Ranchera music.

He points out along with steaks and ribs, he sells some great bologna. He carries Chimex bologna distributed by the FUD brand. But the bologna made in the U.S. is made with poultry not pork from Mexico. “It doesn’t have the same flavor. I don’t know if it’s because it’s Americanized. I don’t know if it has the same ingredients,” said Ortiz who grew up eating the Chimex brand in Mexico as a child. The U.S. bologna is lighter in color than the Mexican meat to she notes.“Over there it’s kind of a reddish color. I really don’t know what’s in there but it’s really good,” she said. 

Even so, customers say there are plenty of other choices for those who crave the flavor of Mexico. Lauren Gore recently moved back to El Paso from Dallas. She said she missed shopping at an “authentic” Mexican meat market. 

She was at the store shopping for dinner with her baby boy and mother.“I’ll have to come back and do the carne al pastor and we’re going to do some ribeyes for the grill as well,” she said.

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