Focus on our national borders

DOT announces Mexican truck law rules
The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued rules Mexican carriers and truckers must follow before they can enter the United States, an event that may take place as early as this summer.

Some specifics:

  • Mexican truckers will be required to undergo a probation period, testing for drugs and alcohol and they must comply with strict U.S. certification programs. Commercial trucks can enter the United States only at commercial crossings and only when a federal safety inspector is present.
  • Mexican carriers applying to operate in the United States will be required to have a Department of Transportation number, pass a safety inspection, complete an 18-month provisional period and provide other certifications.
  • Carriers also must have a drug/alcohol-testing program, comply with federal hours-of-service requirements, maintain databases and hold insurance from a U.S.-registered company.

Compliance will be audited by U.S. inspectors and at least half of the safety audits will take place in Mexico.

Border security bill passes
By a vote of 97 to 0, the Senate passed a bill to increase security of the nation’s borders to improve immigration enforcement laws and to restrict the admission of visitors from countries that support terrorism. The House passed two bills with similar provisions and is expected to accept changes made by the Senate.

The legislation requires 1,000 new U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service inspectors, investigative personnel and support staff to America’s borders. 

Companies must disclose passenger and crew information on all flights and vessels before they enter the United States. In addition, foreigners from countries on America’s terrorist watch list are banned from entering the United States. 

The bill also requires machine-readable, tamper-resistant travel documents for foreigners wanting to enter the country. It requires universities to keep better track of foreign students, including checking and informing the government when and where prospective students arrive and when they are expected to graduate or when they leave school.

U.S./Mexico security plan to emphasize technology
On route to Monterrey, Mexico, March 20, President Bush announced a 22-point security plan to speed traffic and goods across the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexican border and “weed out” terrorists.

Plan specifics have not been worked out yet, but press reports technology will play a key role. For example, United States and Mexico plan to share data and use “non-intrusive” inspection technology at high-volume ports such as Laredo, TX.

Sources at the White House said plans to speed legal traffic also include introducing “smart cards” for trusted cross-border commuters and inspecting and sealing cargo at the point of origin so it does not need to be inspected. The United States and Canada have already agreed to tighten security by developing permanent resident cards and a joint immigration database.

FMCSA to spend big bucks on safety/border enforcement
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently provided a snapshot of its 2003 budget dedicated to safety and border enforcement, including $190 million for the administration’s National Motor Carrier Safety Program.

In a statement, FMCSA said, “(Our) main function is to improve the safety among commercial motor vehicles — the 2003 budget request for FMCSA — totaling $371 million dollars, 8 percent above 2002 — will help meet this challenge.”

Under the motor carrier program, $165 million is earmarked for states in the form of grants to increase state compliance reviews. Money will be used to identify and apprehend traffic violators; increase the volume of roadside inspections; improve state CDL oversight activities; and support state enforcement at the southern border.

Five million dollars will go toward the completion of a study that began in 2001 to examine the cause of crashes. Data gained from the study will help state and federal officials develop effective safety programs, FMCSA said.

And $20 million goes to the Information Systems and Strategic Safety Initiatives program, which in part includes the SAFESTAT technology program to target high-risk motor carriers for compliance reviews.

FMCSA also announced $116 million to improve safety enforcement operations and build inspection facilities along the Southern border.

The Border Enforcement Program includes $61 million to maintain federal and state safety enforcement at the U.S./Mexico border. This is to “ensure Mexican trucks entering the United States are in compliance with both Federal Motor Carrier Safety and hazardous materials regulations,” FMCSA said.

The program will support federal and state inspection of Mexican trucks at the border to “ensure no compromise to motor carrier safety as the administration maintains its commitment to the NAFTA,” the FMCSA said.

— Dick Larsen, senior editor