Thursday, June 23, 2011

Once in a while I get serious. Sorry about that!

In my seven year tenure as an over-the-road truck driver, I have crossed the border into Canada many times. I have had many good experiences in that country and crossing the border was never a problem.  The rules for US carriers in Canada are reciprocal for US and Canadian companies.  A US carrier may deliver a load of freight in Canada, and pick up a Canadian load destined for the US, but they may not pick up a load in Canada and deliver it in that country as well. If the carrier cannot find Canadian freight destined for the US, the truck must come back empty.

As the result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, we are supposed to have a similar arrangement with Mexico.  In September of  1997, under the Bush administration, a pilot program was implemented to allow Mexican Trucks to enter the US and travel beyond the 25 miles they were limited to previously. This program was similar to the Canadian border crossing program in that Mexican trucks could not pick up loads in the US and deliver them in this country, they had to return to Mexico. The reciprocal part of the agreement allows US trucks to deliver freight into Mexico, and bring freight back.

The program was strongly opposed by James Hoffa, President of the Teamsters Union, US Senators Byron Dorgan, Arlen Spector and others, as well as several safety organizations. In late 2007, Congressman Dorgan led the successful fight to de-fund the program. Using a loophole in the law, the Bush administration was able to continue its pilot program despite several lawsuits, until it expired in 2009. The trucks and drivers were supposed to operate by US safety rules. Drivers were supposed to be able to speak and read English, and they were to meet American medical requirements.  During this pilot program, then Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, finally admitted before members of congress, that many of the drivers entering the US from Mexico could only understand road signs in Spanish.

As far as safety concerns go, the Department of Transportation is schizophrenic on the issue. In early September of 2009 they issued a report saying that more work is needed to insure the safety of Mexican trucks, noting that some states were not reporting convictions, and were doing only cursory inspections. Two days later they contradicted themselves by saying that Mexican trucks were safer than US trucks.

As part of its “be nice to Mexico at all costs” program, the Obama Administration has re-kindled the United States-Mexico cross-border long-haul trucking pilot program. The safety concerns still exist and the Teamsters Union still opposes the program, though in typical anti-truck driver fashion the American Trucking Association has embraced the idea.

Mexican truck and driver safety are only a small part of the issue, however. As it stands now, for freight to come into the US from Mexico, it is brought to the border by a Mexican trucker.  It is then trucked across the border by a driver who does nothing but border crossings and dropped inside a fifty mile radius in a common drop yard.  From there a US driver picks it up and delivers it inside the US.
If Mexican trucks are allowed to deliver freight inside the US, it will be at the cost of driver jobs inside this country.  Mexican drivers earn less, so it will be less expensive for the Mexican driver to deliver freight, than for a US driver do it.  The reciprocal part of the arrangement is supposed to combat the job loss problem, by allowing US drivers to deliver freight bound for Mexican destinations. Given the amount of drug cartel violence inside of Mexico recently, it is unlikely that there will be many US drivers willing to venture into that war zone. That means that the majority of the 2.4 billion dollars worth of freight bound for Mexico will be hauled by Mexican carriers.

An even more frightening reason not to allow the cross border program is terrorism.  US Customs estimates that one 18 wheeler crosses into the US every thirty seconds.  With that rate of transit, it is impossible to inspect more than a small fraction of them.  As the law exists now, a Mexican truck must stop and drop its trailer at a drop yard within a 50 mile zone.  If trucks are allowed unfettered access to US highways, a truck loaded with illegals, terrorists, drugs or guns has a much better than even chance of getting across the border unmolested and deep into US territory.  By working with a cooperative freight broker, the paperwork is easy enough to fake. Given the amount of corruption and violence in the current state of Mexico, it is not hard to imagine how it could be done.

Two weeks ago, Mexican officials happened to catch a tractor-trailer loaded with 213 illegal aliens from other Latin American countries.

Congress and the Obama Administration seriously need to re-think this proposal before something a great deal more lethal than illegal aliens comes trucking across our border into the heart of a major American city!

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