Though I suspect most Americans paid little or no attention to news about President Barack Obama hosting Mexican President Felipe Calderón for two days last week, I think many will be interested in what results from the meeting between the two elected leaders, especially when they think about the question raised in the headline above.
On May 19, Presidents Obama and Calderón released a joint statement in which they highlighted a trade and transportation plan aimed at achieving a mutually-agreed-upon solution. Among the premises listed in that plan was the following:
Recognizing that transnational criminal organizations threaten the economies and security of both the United States and Mexico and that both countries share responsibility for the conditions that give rise to these criminal organizations and that allow them to endure, as well as shared responsibility for remedying those conditions
In short, the two made a public acknowledgment of the issue of border security.
Further into the plan, another entry appears under the section, “AREAS OF COLLABORATION“:
The creation, expansion, or mutual recognition of “trusted shipper” programs such as FAST and C-TPAT and “trusted traveler” programs such as SENTRI and Global Entry, allowing enforcement authorities to concentrate their efforts where they are most needed to stop illicit border flows
This time, they acknowledge the need to make crossing the border faster and easier for people who, by completing some paperwork and meeting certain criteria, qualify for special treatment during border crossings.
Now, companies like U.S. Immigration, Visa & Travel of Minneapolis, Minn., enter the picture, complete with an official-looking Department of State seal in their site’s masthead.
Though the graphic above appears prominently on a page on the company’s web site, an explanation of the FAST Pass program renders the red-letter headline somewhat less frightening:
Truckers with criminal records are ineligible for a FAST Pass unless they have received a US waiver and / or a Canadian pardon, which wipes the crime form the records databases but does not delete it completely from central records offices. A Canada pardon is only recognized in Canada and not in the US. If your crime was committed in Canada or you are resident there and you committed a crime abroad then you must get a pardon to clear your criminal record with the Canadian customs and border protection authorities. If your crime was committed in the US you need to get a waiver of inadmissibility. It takes around a year to get hold of these documents and even then there is no guarantee that you will then get your FAST pass.
Still, U.S. and Canadian truckers with criminal records CAN obtain FAST Passes IF they’re willing to do the paperwork and IF they’re willing to wait as long as a year.
After digesting the information above, one question remains about the aforementioned plan being drafted between the U.S. and Mexican governments: Does anyone truly believe that corruption will not surface among officials in the Mexican government if a FAST Pass system similar to the one already in use between the U.S. and Canada is put into play via the U.S.-Mexico cross-border trucking plan?
“Mexico’s regulatory standards and enforcement on trucks aren’t even remotely equivalent to what we have here,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Grain Valley, Mo.-based Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, in a news release issued last month. “To open the border at this time is insanity from both an economic standpoint and safety.”
And what about U.S. trucking jobs going south?
Dan Little, president of the Carrollton, Mo.-based Owner Operators United, Inc., outlined his concerns in a May 13 letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood which ended with this message:
“Should the cross border program go into effect, thousands of American drivers and trucking companies will be forced out, many ending in bankruptcy. The fall out will be felt throughout the entire country.”
UPDATE 5/25/10 at 2:44 p.m. Central: Mexico’s lack of reliable databases and background checks for drivers licenses makes the idea of FAST a joke, says OOIDA’s Norita Taylor, who also points me to an April 22 article, Drugs in the FAST Lane, in the New York Times.