WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Bush administration announced its intention to open the U.S. border to Mexican trucks in the next six to eight weeks for a one-year experimental pilot program.
The border has remained closed except for transfers within a 20-mile commercial zone since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement because of the Mexican government's failure to meet the truck safety and driver training requirements of NAFTA.
"As with the Dubai Ports debacle, President Bush is willing to risk our national security by giving unfettered access to America's transportation infrastructure to foreign companies and their government sponsors," said Jim Hoffa, Teamsters general president. "They are playing a game of Russian roulette on America's highways.
"Mexico refuses to meet their end of the bargain, yet President Bush rewards them with open access to American highways," Hoffa said. "It is the American driving public who will pay the consequences."
According to The Washington Post, several lawmakers said recently that Congress should block the policy change on the grounds of national security.
"It should be revisited," said Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican who is running for president. "I'd like to feel a lot better about the security side of it. If the safeguards aren't in place, we should ... try to stop it."
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, a New York Democrat, called the deal a "monumental" policy change that she finds "very disturbing."
"I want to know more about it from a national security aspect," she said. "We should have oversight and review."
Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat and chairwoman of the appropriations subcommittee on transportation, housing and urban development, has promised a hearing to examine whether the plan meets safety standards.
However, several business organizations are supporting the president's decision, according to reports in the Latin Business Chronicle.
"Implementing the cross-border trucking provisions of ... NAFTA is long overdue," John Murphy, vice president of international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. "This pilot project is a welcome step toward reducing congestion and air pollution at the U.S.-Mexico border while promoting economic growth and jobs."
The U.S. National Foreign Trade Council also supports the move.
"The cross-border trucking pilot program will encourage expansion of an already robust trading relationship with Mexico, and NFTC welcomes today's announcement," Mary Irace, NFTC's vice president of trade and export finance, said in a statement. "We are pleased with the administration's effort to continue following through on our NAFTA commitments."
The Teamsters Union has led efforts to keep the border closed for the past 12 years. Two years ago, the Department of Transportation inspector general found that the Mexican government and Mexican motor carriers did not meet congressionally mandated requirements. An inspector general audit report is due in the next couple of months, raising questions as to why President Bush is pushing this program ahead of that report.
The Bush administration announced that it is initiating a one-year experimental program that will allow 100 Mexican carriers to begin travel beyond the currently permitted commercial zones. Apparently, no hazardous material shipments will be permitted. The DOT is unable to say how many trucks will be participating in the experiment or whether there will be a system in place to differentiate between those trucks traveling to the 20-mile commercial zones and those permitted to travel throughout the United States.
Teamsters' concernsThe impact on Homeland Security initiatives. Will the drivers be checked against the terror watch list or will our borders be open to anyone with a Mexican driver's license? Will the drivers be required to carry a Mexican passport as U.S. citizens are required to present their passports when entering the country from Mexico or Canada?Enforcement of hours of service in Mexico, false log books and fatigued drivers entering the U.S.The application of U.S. standards to Mexican drivers, including the requirement that U.S. drivers have a commercial driver's license, undergo regular physicals and meet minimum age requirements.The integrity of drug and alcohol testing. Though testing will be done in U.S. labs, it is unclear who will oversee the collection of random samples creating a system ripe for abuse.Enforcement of U.S. wage and hour laws.DOT's assertion that all trucks will be inspected by U.S. officials in Mexico and at the U.S. border when less than 10 percent of all Mexican trucks entering the commercial zone are inspected now.
"The DOT has indicated that this is as narrow experiment' as they could initiate. Yet it is an experiment that allows 100 companies and an unknown number of Mexican trucks onto our highways and forces the U.S. traveling public to serve as guinea pigs," Hoffa said. "That is unacceptable. I call on Congress to hold hearings immediately and to put an end to this nonsense."