WASHINGTON – A
controversial, long-delayed program to allow Mexican
trucks to roam freely throughout the United States took
effect last night after the U.S. Transportation Department
granted the final approval.
EDUARDO CONTRERAS / Union-Tribune
Dozens of Teamsters-led truckers mixed with
anti-illegal-immigration activists protested the
pilot program near San Diego's Otay Mesa border
Mexican trucks could begin rolling across the border
today, though officials said it probably would take
several days for the companies to map out their new
The unprecedented border opening, which the
administration said was required under the North American
Free Trade Agreement, marks the first time that Mexican
trucks will be allowed to travel beyond a 25-mile buffer
zone to which they have been confined since 1982.
It also marks the first time that U.S. trucks will be
allowed the same access in Mexico, said John Hill,
administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety
In a conference call with reporters last night, Hill
said the one-year pilot program would eliminate the need
for Mexican trucks at the border to transfer their cargo
to U.S. trucks that then carry them elsewhere in the
The program will allow up to 100 Mexican companies to
send trucks across the border to deliver their loads
anywhere in the country. So far, 38 Mexican trucking firms
have gotten clearance, Hill said.
have committed to allow trucks from as many as 100 U.S.
firms to go anywhere in Mexico by the end of this year,
Hill said, and 14 are poised to receive permission.
“This means less traffic and less pollution at our
borders, and more opportunities for U.S. trucking
companies and shippers, all of which will lead to
significant savings for countless consumers and
businesses,” Hill said.
Opponents of the border opening – including dozens of
lawmakers, the Teamsters union, trucking organizations and
highway safety groups – had sought to block the program
because they believe Mexican trucks pose a risk on U.S.
highways and could be used to smuggle drugs or terrorists
across the border.
Critics hope it will be stopped by ongoing litigation
or by Congress.
At a Capitol Hill news conference earlier in the day,
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., blasted the administration for
failing to address concerns about the accuracy of drug and
alcohol tests of Mexican drivers; lax enforcement of
Mexican traffic laws; and what he said was the
unreliability of Mexican driver records.
“We do not find that the Mexican system is equivalent
to the American system,” DeFazio said.
The news conference also included an emotional
presentation by Sheryl McGurk, an Alexandria, Va., woman
whose parents and nephew were killed in a crash with a
Mexican truck driver in San Diego two years ago.
“My parents and nephew never had a chance,” said McGurk,
whose parents, Robert and Marie Jennings of Carlsbad, and
nephew, David Jennings II of Ohio, died in the Feb. 15,
Although police did not find the Mexican driver to be
at fault, McGurk said she blames the truck because it was
stalled in the freeway after losing a drive shaft when it
was hit by her parents' van.
“The truck and the driver basically disappeared across
the border, and we had no recourse,” said McGurk's
husband, Sean, describing the family's unsuccessful
efforts to track down the driver for a statement.
At a protest yesterday near San Diego's Otay Mesa
border crossing, dozens of truckers led by the Teamsters
mixed with anti-illegal-immigration activists. Business
was uninterrupted, said Lt. Hector Paredes of the
California Highway Patrol, which inspects about 3,000
trucks a day at the crossing.
“We're already inspecting Mexican trucks and will
continue to inspect them the same way,” Paredes said.
“These trucks already haul product from Tijuana to San
Diego. Now they will be able to go beyond San Diego.”
Hill said the Federal Motor Carrier Safety
Administration has made painstaking efforts to ensure the
program is safe, including conducting pre-authorization
inspections of Mexican carriers, pledging to check every
truck that crosses the border and making sure Mexican
drivers comply with all U.S. laws.
Officials were able to start the program last night
after receiving an assessment from the Department of
Transportation's inspector general, which certified that
it complies with congressional requirements.
The agency announced that the first two carriers
granted operating authority were Transportes Olympic in
Nuevo Leon, Mexico, and Stagecoach Cartage and
Distribution of El Paso, Texas.
In response to an unsuccessful lawsuit filed last week
to block the program, U.S. transportation officials said
one of the initial companies to get authorization for the
program would be Luciano Padilla Martínez in Tijuana.
Hill said the carrier wasn't cleared on the first day
because it has yet to prove it has secured the required
$750,000 insurance policy from a U.S. insurer.
The border had been scheduled to be opened to two-way
truck traffic in 1995, but the opening was delayed by
President Clinton, who had concerns about Mexican safety
A NAFTA arbitration panel ruled in 2001 that the
moratorium violated the treaty. In February of this year,
U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters announced that
the Bush administration would go forward with a one-year
demonstration project as a prelude to full opening of the
When the pilot program is over, administration
officials hope to open the border to any Mexican and U.S.
carriers that qualify.
Press contributed to this report.