Border disorder
Continued violence in Mexico, drug war spillover complicates timing of cross-border trucking announcement

By Charlie Morasch, staff writer

The very day that President Barack Obama and Mexico President Felipe Calderon announced that a cross-border trucking program was imminent, a major drug bust in Arizona did little to bolster arguments that Mexican trucks won’t bring problems with them.

On March 3, an Arizona state trooper stopped a truck driven by a Mexican male in his 20s hauling produce on Interstate 19 from Nogales, AZ, to Phoenix.

The driver was unlicensed to drive a commercial vehicle, and troopers noticed several other violations, which “showed that the driver was not familiar with legitimate commercial vehicle operations,” an Arizona Department of Public Safety news release stated.

Inside the trailer, troopers found a hidden compartment with 152 bundles of marijuana totaling 3,616 pounds and worth about $1.2 million on the street.

The arrest was one of several incidents related to Mexico’s violent drug war that are getting the attention of Congress. Violence along the border has continued to surge, even as the White House is trying to strike a deal to open the border to long-haul trucks from Mexico.

Several members of a congressional subcommittee voiced serious concerns at a mid-March hearing regarding the violent drug wars along the border.

The hearing was held by a House Homeland Security subcommittee that examined the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to secure the border. During the hearing, several committee members strongly communicated their concerns about drug cartel violence spilling into the United States.

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-MI, subcommittee chairman, noted the rapid escalation of problems at the nation’s southern border. While previous troubles may have centered on illegal immigrants, “now you have the spillover from drug cartels, and … it does seem to be almost a war zone situation in some areas.”

Along the southern border, it seems to me that the complexion and dynamics are changing, and have changed rather dramatically, particularly during the last several years,” Miller said.

Others concurred.

“I think frankly, we are at the worst point we have ever seen,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-TX, said. “I think it has been steadily deteriorating. … My question, then, as you answer the questions about $500 million in cuts is: Are we ever going to get control? How much more can our friends in Mexico do? Violence is out of control.”

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-TX, said he was concerned about estimates that the border security program won’t fully be in place until at least 2021.

“If I have to go home and tell my constituents that the border won’t be secure until 2026, they’re not going to accept that – and I don’t think they should accept that,” McCaul said. “You are talking 10 to 15 years. It took us a decade to put a man on the moon.”

U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-TX, said he is worried about American guardsmen and border patrol workers.

“I’m concerned about the border. That’s of paramount importance,” Green said. “But I’m also concerned about the safety of the men and women who work along the border, as well as those who work on the other side of the border.”

The truck
According to the DOT number on the truck pulled over on March 3, the truck was registered under Luz Belem Robles Carrillo of Sonora, Mexico. The carrier had been recently issued provisional authority to operate only along the border in specific commercial zones identified by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The type of authority the carrier was issued is classified as OP-2. Carriers with OP-2 authority may operate in border zones in the U.S. in states that border Mexico. Carriers can only have one type of authority. If a long-haul program is implemented, carriers would have to apply for the OP-1 authority.

Since being issued that provisional border zone authority in October 2010, the motor carrier had tallied only one inspection, according to FMCSA’s website.

The Mexican motor carrier with the same DOT number was inspected in December 2010 and was found to have eight violations. The violations included no driver’s record of duty status, driving a CMV while disqualified, no medical certificate, two counts of operating a CMV without periodic inspection, wheel flaps missing or defective, glazing permits, and state or international fuel tax violation.

Bart Graves, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Public Safety, told Land Line Now investigators believe the truck’s driver had been recently hired by a Mexican drug cartel.

DPS officers ask questions to determine whether drivers are legitimate and whether they can safely drive.

“If he doesn’t know how his own truck works, and if he doesn’t know about logs, it would indicate to us he is a recent hire by the drug cartels to transport this cargo,” Graves said. “That’s how we felt about this guy, that he was just hired to do that. We don’t think he was a professional driver.”

The driver, who was arrested near the U.S.-Mexico border, is working with authorities and remains in custody, Graves said.

Arizona DPS did not say whether the truck was associated with the drug cartel or had been hijacked.

Graves said in recent years cartels have increasingly paid individuals to courier drugs from various points through drug trafficking networks.

“They will pay $5,000 to rent a car and transport drugs to folks like this gentleman, who is driving commercial vehicles disguised as legitimate loads when in fact they’re carrying an enormous amount of drugs,” Graves said. “It shows a level of desperation by the cartels to get their product into this country.” LL

Information for this article was
contributed by Land Line Now
Staff Reporter Reed Black.