Legislation seeks background checks on Mexican truckers

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Legislation introduced in Congress Thursday, March 29, could delay the Bush administration’s plan to lift a longstanding ban on Mexican truck travel throughout the United States. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., an opponent of the plan, introduced one of the bills, which would allow police to gain access to the same kind of criminal background information on Mexican truckers as they can pull up on American drivers.

U.S. Department of Transportation officials had wanted to launch the pilot program by the end of April, allowing 100 Mexican trucking companies to haul cargo throughout the United States. Current rules allow Mexican truck drivers to go no farther than 25 miles inside the country. The pilot program could lead to a complete lifting of the ban. The Bush administration insists it has put in place sufficient safeguards for the pilot program.

Hunter — a conservative running for president in 2008 — said his bill would require Mexican truckers to meet the same standards as American truckers. One of the most important provisions, he said, would require the federal government to certify that when a Mexican trucker is pulled over, police could pull up the same kind of background information on the Mexican as they could on an American driver. Hunter said that should include criminal violations, such as drug convictions.

He said the database used by Mexican authorities to verify a driver’s identification, driving record and criminal history should be equivalent to that used in the United States. Currently, U.S. law does not require a criminal background check for U.S. truck drivers unless they want to be certified to haul hazardous materials.

In a statement in reaction to Hunter’s bill, DOT said the program “will bring real benefits and real dollars to the American economy while maintaining all U.S. safety and security standards.” The statement added that the agency “is committed to moving forward with this program and will continue to work with members of Congress to address their concerns.”

Another bill introduced Thursday would require DOT to seek public comment on the pilot program before it is launched and would limit the program to one year. Rep. Nancy Boyda, D-Kan., sponsored the bill, which has the support of House Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn. Oberstar is not supporting Hunter’s bill and has not said if he will allow it to get a hearing in committee.