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Noriega, Teamsters pick bone with Cornyn

By Judith Pannebaker

United States Texas Senator John Cornyn has allowed Mexican trucks unrestricted access to America’s roads without undergoing full security checks or safety certifications, according to Rick Noriega, Democratic candidate for US Senate.
Supporting Noriega’s concerns, the Teamsters Union also came out against a pilot cross-border trucking program inaugurated last fall, which allows trucks from Mexico full access to American highways. According to Teamster officials, the pilot program creates a dangerous precedent on US highways because they claim Mexican trucks and drivers are not held to the same safety standards as their American counterparts.

Responding to public concerns, Congress passed legislation last year prohibiting the implementation of the program; however, the Bush administration announced this month it will defy Congress and push through the Cornyn-backed program.
Noriega recently voiced his concerns at a recent meeting of the Central Texas Central Labor Council meeting.

“John Cornyn is out of touch with the Texas families who are driving on the same roads with these trucks from Mexico that don’t meet our safety standards and aren’t fully inspected at the border,” he said. “John Cornyn voted against the Texas trucker who depends on transporting Mexican goods so he can put food on his table for his family.”

Noriega continued, “We’re at the hub of commerce here in Texas and I believe we can export American goods without exporting jobs of hardworking Texans - and we can do it in a fair way where everyone plays by the same rules. Texas thinking or Washington thinking, that’s the choice.”

A report by the inspector general of the US Department of Transportation found that “coordinated, site-specific plans to carry out such checks” on every truck were not in place as of July, according to Noriega. In addition, the report added, not having plans in place before the program is implemented “will increase the risk that project participants will be able to avoid the required checks.” The report in its entirety can be found in Issues Pertaining to The Proposed NAFTA Cross-Border Trucking Demonstration Project, DOT Inspector General Report, Sept. 6, 2007.

As if underscoring the danger allegedly posed by unsafe trucks, on Friday, Jan. 11, a fiery crash occurred on the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge to Mexico that killed four people and injured six. Included in the pile-up were two 18-wheelers with Mexican license plates that were traveling in opposite directions. The accident shut down the 3.2-mile international bridge for nearly nine hours.

The Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge serves as one of the most important ports of entry along the US-Mexico border, handling both commercial and passenger-operated vehicles. It connects US 281 in the City of Pharr to Reynosa, Tamaulipas. The industrial city in northeastern Mexico has become one of the fastest growing cities in Latin America.

The Teamsters Union quickly urged the Bush administration to begin a full-scale investigation into the crash.

In a prepared statement, Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa offered, “We’ve been saying for years that Mexican trucks are not as safe as American trucks. We’re concerned the Bush administration will cover up what happened because it wants to protect its illegal and reckless project to open the border to Mexican trucks.”

According to statistics from the US Department of Transportation, however, Mexican trucks operating in the United States since the pilot program’s inception have had a clean safety record - despite safety checks for all Mexican trucks traveling through the US not being in place.

Last Sept. 11, Congress overwhelmingly passed a provision that would prevent the Bush administration from using taxpayer dollars to implement any program that allows “Mexico-domiciled motor carriers to operate beyond the commercial zones along the international border between the United States and Mexico.”

According to the Senate Roll Call vote 331, S.Amdt. 2797 to HR 3074, Cornyn voted to allow the trucks expanded access to the US highways. Bush signed the bill into law last month.