Here is an excerpt from Christopher Sherman's Associated Press article:
"A U.S. program that offers trusted trucking companies speedy passage across American borders has begun attracting just the sort of customers who place a premium on avoiding inspections: Mexican drug smugglers. Most trucks enrolled in the program pause at the border for just 20 seconds before entering the United States. And nine out of 10 of them do so without anyone looking at their cargo. But among the small fraction of trucks that are inspected, authorities have found multiple loads of contraband, including eight tons of marijuana seized during one week in April. Some experts now question whether the program makes sense in an environment where drug traffickers are willing to do almost anything to smuggle their shipments into the U.S." Link to Full Article
Analysis: I wrote a post on the US-Mexico trucking program some time ago, trying to detail the deeply two-sided nature of this debate. It seems like that debate is still ongoing, and both sides still have very strong opinions about the program.
The group that sides against the program is comprised mostly of some law enforcement, safety-conscious US citizens, and unionized US truckers. The agencies that deal with cross-border trucks are mostly border agencies like CBP, as well as the DEA and highway patrol. I can't speak for CBP and the DEA, but I imagine they might feel that allowing vehicles with LOTS of space for contraband into the country with little scrutiny at the actual time of crossing poses a vulnerability. Highway patrol officers may come across these trucks well after they've entered the US, and while many are trained to spot safety violations and detect the presence of contraband, many are not. Some US citizens who are not well-versed on the program have an image in their heads of Mexican trucks on US highways and conclude that they must be rattling 18-wheelers that are ready to fall apart and kill a dozen motorists in the process. Finally, unionized US truckers are worried that the program will take jobs away from them.
The group in favor of the program includes Mexican trucking companies, US truckers who live and work in Mexico as part of the program, and businesses on both sides of the border who benefit from reduced shipping costs and transit times as a result of the program. I know an American trucker who works in Mexico, and he's pretty upset by the bad rap the program has gotten over the years. I asked him what he thought of this article, and he pointed out several things worth mentioning here.
First, he said that 71 "compromised" loads out of roughly 7 million that cross the border every year is a tiny fraction. Of course, those 71 loads are the ones that were detected. We have no way of knowing how many loads of contraband successfully made it into the US in program-registered trucks. Second, he talked about the plata o plombo situation. I agree that program-affiliated companies make themselves vulnerable to smugglers by advertising their participation. I also agree with my associate in that truckers have little choice but to accept bribes if they value their lives. That's just the way things work in Mexico. Finally, he said it's a long and expensive process for trucking companies to get certified through the C-TPAT. They understand the risk, but feel it's worth the financial benefits they derive from being part of the program.
So, bottom line, this is just another form of the classic debate over security versus convenience, or in this case, commerce. I understand the merits of both arguments, and it's tough for me to say which side has the better one. Mexican trucks aren't the only ones crossing the border, and drugs make their way into the US inside all sorts of vehicles through dozens of ports of entry every day. But is it smart to allow trucks coming from Mexico on the fast track into the US with minimal - if any - physical scrutiny? If we can reduce the number of conveyances for drugs into the US, shouldn't we try? Sounds simple enough, but we have trains crossing the border (sometimes carrying drugs) and hundreds of Mexico-origin ships and boats that enter US waters without scrutiny every day. Are we going to try and limit that, too?
It's a tough call, and for now, we can only hope that our law enforcement agencies and the improved technology they're using can detect and deter the entry of contraband into the US by trucks originating in Mexico.