Thursday, August 4, 2011

Entering the border zone

Running a regular route to a warehouse near the U.S.-Mexico border, it took years before Mike – not his real name – was approached by drug runners.

During the last few years, Mike said, the border changed.

First, the U.S. side tightened up. Mexican smugglers approached legitimate trucking company drivers on the American side to smuggle cash south of the border and drugs into the U.S.

“They’re weren’t even hiding it anymore,” Mike said. “It’s getting scary down there.”

At one point, Mike said smugglers approached his girlfriend, then a truck stop waitress in Laredo, TX.

“A guy said, ‘we’ve been asking your boyfriend pretty nicely to do things, and we just wanted to come by and say ‘hi,’” Mike recounted. “’Maybe you should tell him to consider the job we’re talking about.’”

Though Mike left the border area more than a year ago, he still has friends who work there, and he wonders how safe they will be as the U.S. DOT pushes the cross-border trucking program, and cartel influence seems to spread in both the U.S. and Mexico.

A recent report from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police says the expansion of cross border trucking is likely to create a turf war between cartels, upsetting the status quo that has seen record truck cargo thefts in recent months on the Mexican side.

Referencing the pending White House decision to enact cross-border trucking for Mexican drivers, the report says cargo distribution will move further to inland ports, and that cross-border trucking could create a turf war between Canadian and Mexican criminal groups.

“Competition may create a realignment at the border, with Mexican criminals moving cocaine north and Canadians moving marijuana and cash south into the U.S.

Much like the old show “Dragnet,” this blog post has changed Mike’s actual name to protect the innocent. He is a veteran trucker and OOIDA member who asked Land Line to not use his name.  He had a regular run to Laredo, TX for 12 years, only stopping in 2009 after he says the job’s proximity to major drug running worried him.

“I stopped going down there – it’s just too dangerous,” Mike said.

And Mike isn’t the only OOIDA member to recently call in after run-ins with drug smugglers. The Association’s Business Assistance department spoke with another member last month who had drugs planted in his load near the border in Texas.

The problem has become so prevalent that three years ago, Texas Gov. Rick Perry created the Texas Hold ’Em program for state troopers to educate U.S. truckers about the perils of smuggling, and point out how often American drivers were being propositioned to haul drugs.

The program also gives Texas the authority to yank CDLs from drivers convicted of hauling illegal drugs.

In June’s American Shipper, the shipping magazine points out that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol are shifting freight inspection responsibilities over to private freight brokers.

“CBP wants brokers to have increased responsibility for vetting clients and strengthening requirements for proof of identity necessary to execute a power of attorney,” says the article. “By operating under the compliance umbrella of a knowledgeable broker, or possibly allowing the broker to audit its compliance practices, smaller companies could become eligible for the Importer Self-Assessment or other partnership programs, and receive benefits such as reduced oversight and documentation requests.”

Increased freight volume means increased responsibilities for private shippers, brokers, and freight forwarders, the article shows.

Unfortunately for residents of both nations who live near the border, and for law enforcement personnel, the drug trade won’t be standing in the way of economic progress through cross-border trucking.

Drug trade will be riding shotgun.