From the Hill
Security first in cross-border issues

Duncan Hunter
U.S. Representative

It’s bad enough that little has been done to secure America’s southern land border since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But when it was announced that an effort was under way to provide Mexican truckers direct and unrestricted access into the United States, it became clear that the demands of the American people for secure and enforceable borders have fallen on deaf ears.

Today’s security threat mandates that we know who is entering our country and what they are bringing with them. As illegal foot and vehicle traffic continues making its way across the southern land border, one is hard pressed to understand how Mexican truckers freely entering the United States wouldn’t further complicate our efforts to identify exactly who and what is crossing our border.

The Department of Transportation’s attempt to establish a pilot program opening the border to Mexican trucking companies should not have come as a surprise. Included in the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994 was a provision opening American roadways and communities to cross-border trucking competition in 2000.

I opposed NAFTA because I believed it was bad for American business and bad for our security. The cross-border trucking program pursued by DOT is no different. Not only would it hurt those American truckers who currently drive freight inland from commercial zones along the border, but it would also present significant risks to our nation’s security and the safety of vehicle motorists.

In response to these risks, Congress pressed the Clinton administration not to implement the trucking program, which ultimately led to the confinement of Mexican truckers to the commercial zones along the border. Congress intervened again in 2001 and wisely passed legislation mandating that a series of safety conditions be fully satisfied before the cross-border trucking program could move forward.

When DOT officials announced earlier this year that the compliance standards had been met and that implementation of the pilot program was under way, many lawmakers in Congress were not convinced.

Immediate concerns and questions were raised about how the standards had been met and how they would be enforced. Other than making the assertion that everything was under control, DOT was silent and left lawmakers with little confidence that compliance standards were satisfied and illicit cargo and contraband would not be moving into the United States.

As a result, I worked with the staff of OOIDA and developed legislation to clarify and strengthen the limitations imposed on Mexican motor carriers, while also proposing stronger enforcement measures and protections for American motorists.

My legislation – HR1756, but referred to as the NAFTA Trucking Safety Act – not only reaffirms the safety conditions pushed by Congress in 2001, but also includes English language proficiency standards and a requirement for the development of a database to allow security officials to verify the background and criminal history of cross-border truckers.

Plain and simple: if Mexican truckers are unable or unwilling to meet the same safety and security requirements as their American counterparts, then they should not be allowed to cross into the U.S.

Soon after I introduced the NAFTA Trucking Safety Act, the House considered a measure to strengthen the standards applied to Mexican truckers. That worthwhile bill, HR1773, aka the Safe American Roads Act of 2007, won the approval of the House and included several provisions from my legislation, including the English proficiency standards. Parts of HR1773 were subsequently included in the war supplemental funding bill that was signed by the president. But, I believe we must go further.

I strongly believe a verifiable and accessible database to screen cross border traffic is an important element of our future efforts to ensure we know who is driving on our roadways. It is equally critical that cross-border vehicles are subjected to a thorough and comprehensive screening process that amounts to more than a simple walk-around or cursory visual inspection.

I hope the Senate will give this legislation the consideration it deserves and also recognize the need to go the length necessary to ensure potential terrorists, as well as drug and human smugglers, are not offered another method of entry into the United States. If we don’t, or even accept the status quo, we will have missed a valuable opportunity to deliver a much needed element of security to our southern border.

Presidential hopeful U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-CA, is the ranking member of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee. He served as chairman of the committee from 2003-2007. He has been a member of the House of Representatives since 1980. He served as chairman of the Military Research and Development Subcommittee from 2001-2002 and the Subcommittee on Military Procurement from 1995-2000.

Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and are not necessarily representative of the views or opinions of Land Line Magazine or OOIDA.