Groups protest Mexican truck project

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Truckers and anti-illegal immigration forces joined hands at the Capitol on Monday, April 23, to protest a Bush administration plan to let Mexican trucks haul freight deep into the United States.

The Bush administration announced plans in February for a pilot project to permit 100 Mexican trucking companies to travel beyond the current 20-mile limit. About 75 sign-carrying truckers and their supporters voiced their disapproval of the project during a rally on the Capitol’s south steps.

Protesters included members of the anti-illegal immigration group, the Oklahoma Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, which is headed by Steve Merrill, former immigration agent. They heard speakers say permitting Mexican trucks into the country would present safety, security, environmental and economic problems for Americans. Ron Black, a former radio talk show host, blasted the project as an attack on U.S. sovereignty.

“The security of our country is at risk for the benefit of just a few companies,” said trucker Jay Michael Riley. He and his wife, Claret, a truck driving team, helped found Americans for Safe Highways and Secure Borders, an organization of longhaul truck drivers and supporters opposed to allowing Mexican trucks to travel U.S. highways.

Riley said the Mexican government had not developed a database of Mexican truckers as promised under the North American Free Trade Agreement and the proposed NAFTA superhighway. He said allowing Mexican trucks to travel U.S. roads would increase drug trafficking, expose Americans to safety risks, promote illegal immigration and even allow terrorists easy access to the country.

“Where do you think all of those worn out trucks go — they go to Mexico,” said Dan Howard of Outraged Patriots. Other speakers said Mexican truckers are poorly paid, and allowing them into the United States would put American truckers out of business.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, along with a group of five other organizations, contends the U.S. Department of Transportation has violated federal laws regarding public notice and comment required before opening the border to Mexico-based trucking companies. “We have strongly opposed this program since first introduced, and in particular, the secretive nature in which it has been presented by the DOT,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president.

OOIDA today, April 24, joined the Teamsters, Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Law Foundation and Teamsters Local No. 70 in Oakland, Calif., in filing a lawsuit Monday in California asking the DOT and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to provide details to the public, and allow the opportunity for debate.

“The DOT has still not answered questions about verification of drivers’ records, drug and alcohol testing, hours of service, cabotage, inspections and insurance,” Spencer said. “They make general statements about audits of Mexican motor carriers, but have shown nothing that should make the American public feel confident that they have fulfilled all the obligations necessary before moving forward.”

The Teamsters Union said it joined the suit because the Bush administration violated federal law by failing to publish proper, advance notice of the pilot project and by not allowing an opportunity for public comment before the program takes effect. “The Bush administration is ignoring the American people in its zeal to open our borders to unsafe Mexican trucks,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa. “This reckless pilot program must be stopped and the driving public protected.”

Congress is considering a provision in an emergency spending bill that would block funding for the program until Mexican trucking companies meet congressionally mandated safety and security standards. It also would require that U.S. trucks have equal access to Mexican roads and mandate that the project comply with federal law governing pilot programs. A bill by Rep. Nancy Boyda, D-Kan., would enact similar requirements.

“The Bush administration is trying to circumvent safety requirements by repackaging this plan as an illegal pilot program,” Hoffa said. “Inspectors can’t enforce truck safety in the United States, let alone south of the border.”

Meanwhile, the Mexican Senate voted today to negotiate a delay of the program until July, and voted to put several things into motion during that delay aimed at fine-tuning the program before opening the border. The proposal was made to the Mexican Senate by Sen. Rogelio Rueda. His proposal was approved by a show of hands.

The passage of his proposal directs the creation of a board of federal officials and private stakeholders to monitor the progress of the development of the U.S. pilot program and the start of the cross-border program to ensure it is in accordance with NAFTA. The board also is to analyze the efficiency of the border crossings.

In addition to creating the board, Rueda’s proposal also asked the Senate to negotiate a delay of the program until July while the Mexican Secretary of Communications and Transportation works toward compromise with the U.S. Secretary of Transportation on three points:

  • Mexican officials should obtain agreements to improve the efficiency of the FAST lanes being implemented on the U.S.-Mexico border;
  • The Mexican government should assure the same number of motor carriers from each country be involved with the program; and
  • The Mexican Secretary of Transportation should negotiate the existing regulations to be modified to make sure the program has equal benefit for truckers from both countries.