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

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Higher prices in the United States have led many near the southern border to do their shopping in Mexico, where many goods are cheaper. But it turns out it's illegal to cross the border with food like fruit, eggs or meat. KTEP's Angela Kocherga reports that Customs and Border Protection officials are cracking down.

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

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (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 food, especially meats, nothing like that? No chicken eggs, nothing?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Nothing.

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: You bringing 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, mangoes, 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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.