Matalon: The U.S. House of Representatives voted 411 to 3 against allowing Mexican trucks full access to the U.S. market. But the Bush Administration has forged ahead, permitting 20 Mexican fleets to unload their goods anywhere in the U.S. and pick up merchandise for the return trip to Mexico. Previously the Mexicans would off-load their cargo onto an American truck near the border. But there is a catch; Mexican trucks cannot take on loads along the way and deliver to another point in the U.S. before returning to Mexico. That often means half empty trucks, and higher costs.
Long-haul trucks in Juarez, Mexico, waiting to enter the United StatesLong-haul trucks in Juarez, Mexico, waiting to enter the United States
Matalon: Every day 15 to 20 thousand trucks cross into the US from Ju-rez into El Paso, Texas. A long line of heavy trucks patiently wait for their inspection before entering the U.S. Their drivers reject claims by members of Congress and the Teamsters that Mexican trucks are unsafe. Vicente Valdez says that allegation is unfair. He has 16 years of accident free experience and he drives for Sotelo, one of the Mexican fleets approved for the program.
An inspector uses a sniffer dog to check one of the Mexican trucksAn inspector uses a sniffer dog to check one of the Mexican trucks
I got into a rig driven by Francisco Gonzalez for the trip into the U.S., a crossing that took two hours as sniffer dogs and U.S. Transportation Dep't inspectors looked over his truck. He was delivering soft rinks and food to a group of stores near El Paso. He also drives for an approved fleet. He says opposition to Mexican fleets gaining full access to U.S. markets is nothing less than discrimination against Mexicans.
Trucker Gonzalez: ï¿½Donde sea. Donde sea podemos entrar.ï¿½Trucker Gonzalez: ï¿½Donde sea. Donde sea podemos entrar.ï¿½
Matalon: Gonzalez says all Mexican drivers should be permitted to deliver and pick up merchandise anywhere in the U.S. He asks rhetorically, 'Isn't that what free trade is about? I got out of Gonzalez' truck at the U.S. inspection station and wished him a safe trip.
The U.S. Teamsters Union has joined forces with an unlikely coalition in a lawsuit against the Bush Administration. The Teamsters are co-plaintiffs with the Sierra Club, the Environmental Law Foundation, Public Citizen and Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. The Teamsters' Leslie Miller rejects the administration's claims that all trucks approved for the project meet U.S. safety standards. For example, Mexican diesel contains more pollutants than U.S. diesel, and Mexican drivers often work longer hours than American truckers.
Miller: ï¿½We are not against Mexican truck drivers. We are against the companies that exploit them that make them work ridiculous hours and drive these horrible trucks. So this is not an anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican campaign. This is a pro-safety, pro-American middle class job campaign.ï¿½
Matalon: The federal government's Motor Carrier Safety Administration says the lawsuit is without merit, and that the Mexican trucks have met or surpassed U.S. standards.
The head of the McAllen, Texas Development Council says Mexican trucks should be allowed in. Keith Patridge says there's a shortage of U.S. drivers that if left unchecked will ultimately hurt Americans.
Patridge: ï¿½There's a demand for the workers in the United States, same as in the trucking industry. And if we have a problem getting truckers, or a problem moving product in this country, it's going to result in increased costs to the consumer.ï¿½
Matalon: The Federal Court is San Francisco is considering the lawsuit. Right now proponents say the free movement of Mexican trucks across the entire U-S could save consumers in both countries $ 400 million a year in transport costsï¿½because trucks move most of the goods between the two countries.
For The World, I'm Lorne Matalon in Ju-rez, Mexico.