All That's Trucking

Is racism at work in border trucking debate?

May 20, 2011

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A Milwaukee-area truckstop recently pulled some not-so-humorous bumper stickers targeting illegal aliens from its shelves after a threatened protest. The incident got me thinking about the attitude of some in our industry toward our neighbors south of the border.
This shot by Porter Corn shows a Mexican truck in Monterrey, Mexico.
This shot by Porter Corn shows a Mexican truck in Monterrey, Mexico.

The Citgo Auto Truck Stop off I-94 and Highway 20 in Sturtevant, Wis., was selling a bumper sticker that reads "USA, illegal immigrant hunting permit. No bag limit - Tagging not required."

Voces De La Frontera, an immigrant advocacy group, quickly planned a protest, saying the bumper stickers were inciting hate crimes. The protest was canceled after truckstop owner Bob Basil removed the fake hunting license bumper sticker and some others that could be considered offensive, saying he had never taken a close look at all the many bumper stickers the truckstop offered. The immigrant group then gave Basil an award for his prompt action in this situation.

Some people might find this bumper sticker humorous and/or a legitimate expression of free speech, but if it had said "N***** Hunting Permit," I doubt anyone would be selling it. Ah, but that's different, some might say -- illegal aliens are breaking the law! OK, how about a bumper sticker saying it's hunting season for truckers that violate hours of service or break the speed limit or throw urine-filled soda bottles out the window? Some four-wheelers might want a hunting permit for truckers who aggressively ride their bumpers.

Is it really just the fact that we're talking about breaking the law here, or is there an element of racism at work? And is racism rearing its ugly head in the debate over the long-delayed opening of the border to long-haul Mexican trucks, as required under the North American Free Trade Agreement that was signed nearly 20 years ago? I'm not saying anyone who opposes opening the border is racist or prejudiced, but in reading and listening to some of the comments on the debate, I can't help but think it's a factor.

Talking about tariffs

I'm not saying I think NAFTA was perfect; many jobs in this country have moved south of the border because of it. But the fact is, our country signed this agreement and we need to honor it.

The issue has resulted in some strange bedfellows, with James P. Hoffa, head of the solidly Democratic Teamsters union, appearing on the Truckin' Bozo radio talk show on Sirius XM's Road Dog 106 channel, where host Dale Sommers is known to be well to the right of center. The Teamsters have also joined forces with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association to fight the cross-border program; the two groups are bitterly opposed on many other issues, including that of "misclassifying" owner-operators as employees at the nation's ports.

Some of the groups opposing cross-border trucking cast it as a jobs issue. Last week, Sen. Earlier this month, West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, waded into the fight, saying the administration's pilot program will endanger U.S. companies' competitiveness.

But talk to some of the people, including truckers, who have been affected by the punitive tariffs Mexico slapped on a host of farm and consumer products in 2009 when the previous cross-border pilot program was canceled. The director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture, for instance, sent a letter to FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro in support of the new pilot program. He noted that the tariffs resulted in a 50 percent reduction in frozen potato exports from Washington to Mexico and closure of a potato processing plant costing 250 family-wage jobs. Washington pear exports to Mexico dropped from $33.5 million in 2008 to $10 million in 2010.

And that's just two products in one state. The annual value of 99 products effected is estimated at $2.4 billion by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. U.S. pork exports to Mexico from August to December 2010, after pork tariffs were put on the list, were down 9 percent from 2009, while Canadian exports grew by 99 percent. Western Growers, representing fruit and vegetable growers in California and Arizona, estimate exports of fruit, vegetable and tree nut commodities to Mexico have declined over $200 million. I have to wonder, how much is this drop in exports affecting our fragile economic recovery?

The other big argument against opening the border is safety. Truckers point to the decrepit trucks they see running in the narrow commercial zone along the border and ask, "Do you really want these on our highways?" The problem is, pointing to these trucks as examples of all Mexican trucks is like pointing to drayage trucks operating at some U.S. ports and saying they represent all U.S. trucks.

A blogger and trucker who frequently goes south of the border sent me some photos of real long-haul Mexican trucks, and they're a far cry from dilapidated accidents-waiting-to-happen on wheels.

Lazy Mexicans?

Many in this country appear to believe in a stereotype of Hispanics as lazy, greasy, thieving good-for-nothings -- you know, the guy in the sombrero sleeping under the cactus. But in case you haven't looked lately, Mexican immigrants (both legal and illegal) have become a vital part of our economy.

Check out "A gringo in the lettuce fields" and think about how long you could keep up with one of these "lazy" migrant workers. Back in 2004, the film "A Day Without a Mexican" tried to "make the invisible visible" by taking a satirical look at what would happen to California if its Mexican population suddenly disappeared. Lawn work? Restaurants? Nannies? Construction crews? Maids? Car washes? Nada.

So I wonder: Are some in the trucking industry letting racism, either consciously or subconsciously, affect their views on the wisdom of opening the border?

Porter Corn thinks so. Corn has been in the trucking business for more than 37 years and has more than 30 years of experience traveling into Mexico, where he has a home in Monterrey. WIth his website, Mexico Trucker Online, he tries to counter myths about Mexican truckers, from the condition of their equipment to the legitimacy of the country's truck safety regulations, some of which are actually stricter than those in the U.S.

Recently, Corn has been taking some in the trucking media to task for what he sees as one-sided reporting and commentary on the issue, both on his website and on the "Life on the Road" trucker blog site run by a major truck maker.

"No drug testing in Mexico? No medical requirements? CDLs that can be bought on the street for $50.00? Fantasies of people deliberately taking advantage of ignorant peoples fears and prejudices," Corn writes in a recent post criticizing an article in the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association's magazine Land Line.

To the north

Opponents of opening the border have pointed to drug busts at the Mexican border to prove that it's too dangerous to start cross-border trucking. But there are drug busts on our northern border, too. As a matter of fact, as our Canadian friends at Today's Trucking report, a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, released earlier this month, says the Obama administration has failed to reinforce the northern crossing against the smuggling of weapons, drugs, illegal immigrants and currency.

Where's the outrage over Canadian trucks crossing the border? Aren't these Canadian truckers likely to bring in illegal drugs and ille


  1. 1. Kevin Nussbaum [ May 25, 2011 @ 04:55PM ]

    Are you kidding? There are enough problems with this program without bringing in racism. Sure, there will always be a small number of people who will be racist, but that has nothing to do with this program. Stick to the meat of the question and don't just try to inflame everyone.

  2. 2. Cali-Former [ May 25, 2011 @ 06:39PM ]

    To the extent that there is any racism in this matter, it's more symptom than cause. The cause, as you and others have pointed out, is not just mis-information, but rampant mis-information.

    The $2.4 billion in lost exports is what it cost to kick a whopping ~65 trucks back south of the border. To quote Animal House, "a really futile and stupid gesture," if ever there was one.

    Reasonable people can disagree on the intricate matters of cabotage and trans-border trucking, but it seems that many otherwise reasonable people are perfectly content to knowingly spread misinformation, solely to protect their piece of the pie from legitimate, legal competition.

  3. 3. Tim Brady [ May 25, 2011 @ 09:15PM ]

    Many organizations, individual bloggers, radio talk show hosts, and yes even the media have tainted the facts or provide only the convenient truth without spelling out the whole truth and all the facts concerning the Cross-Border issue. Is it racism? Some of it yes. Is it prejudice or distrust of a different culture? Some of it yes. However, the majority of the problem is caused by organizations, talk show hosts, media outlets purposely omitting certain facts and only printing or broadcasting those facts that move their "agenda" forward. A great example was a recent magazine which sent a photographer to the border to get a picture of the worst looking Mexican truck possible and infer it was representative of all Mexican carriers, then used the picture on their magazine cover to sway opinion in the direction of the organization’s agenda they represent.

    Providing only part of the facts on any issue is nothing more than creating propaganda using half-truths.


  4. 4. Jason Haggard [ May 26, 2011 @ 07:39AM ]

    The ignorant few who use their racist views as a basis for opposing the cross border trucking issue, along with those so called journalists and bloggers who like to promote their pro cross border trucking agenda by stereotyping anyone who is against it as a racist, are the ones throwing the race card in there. I for one do not support the cross border trucking agenda but for reasons other than race.

    Voces De La Frontera used this as an attempt to play the race card by using a bumper sticker of all things....where did that bumper sticker say "Mexican" or anything close to it?. There are illegal aliens of all ethnic backgrounds coming into the country so why does Voces De La Frontera make the connection with the Mexican people? Quite simply put, if a person is not here legally then they shouldn't be here, regardless of their ethnic background. That is the meaning behind the bumper sticker.

  5. 5. JonPaul [ May 26, 2011 @ 08:52AM ]

    Some of the hardest working transportation people I know are Mexicans. Your right, you never hear anyone complaining about Canadian Carriers running amouk in the U.S. A treaty is a treaty. It is a contract between two countrys. Therefor, it is the Law of the Land. This is just more of Fox news philosophy..."Little things amuse little minds"

  6. 6. Mike H [ May 26, 2011 @ 01:50PM ]

    I think this issue is simple. If the trucks, drivers, cargo, entering the US are obeying every law, paying all tariff, and taxes of the United Sates of America then there is no problem. We all have a competitive nature, and our Federal Government should make sure that all parties have a equal playing field, while not penalizing US companies. I live in a city that is been known as a "sanctuary" city. My opinion has been, if you are here legally, you are on the tax rolls, and a contributing member of society, then I don't care who you are or what you look like.

  7. 7. Deborah Lockridge [ May 26, 2011 @ 02:18PM ]

    Jason, I certainly did not mean to imply that anyone who is against the program is a racist. There are some valid concerns. But some of the rhetoric I've been hearing does not seem to articulate valid concerns, but only vague fears about those job-stealing Mexicans.

    Interesting point about the bumper sticker.

  8. 8. AskTheTrucker [ May 26, 2011 @ 04:49PM ]

    NAFTA/ Cross Border Trucking and illegal immigration are two separate issues.

    Racism is NOT the issue, but rather an intimidation tactic used by many to divert attention from the real elements and effects of NAFTA.

    NAFTA has done nothing more but increase the poverty of the Mexican people. Many of those who arrive here in the US illegally do so out of desperation, as many are indigenous farmers who are no longer able to compete with the American government subsidized corporate farms, who the Mexican tariffs effected, not small US farmers as many would want you to believe.

    NAFTA and corporations have exploited the Mexican people by using them as cheap labor in the factories of foreign Mexican based companies, and now cross border trucking is the last piece of the puzzle to NAFTA to continue this process.

    To make a very complex situation simple, Mexican and US drivers will be competing against one another in the job market, keeping wages DOWN for all drivers.

  9. 9. Brian Davis [ May 26, 2011 @ 09:32PM ]

    "Common Sense" has been replaced with left-headed ideology. Shame on you Deborah, for even bringing racism up. Americian Truckers have complained about Canada for years. Most recently about speed governing. I am a 3rd generation truck driver. I have seen my Grandfathers pay stubs from 1980. He was bringing home an average of $1,300.00 a week. AFTER TAXES!!! And he was a company driver. Now you want to flood the market with more trucks from yet another country? And if we say no and give legitimate reasons, left-headed wing nuts pull the race card. Well I'm sick of it. Deborah Lockridge , if your not part of the solution, your part of the problem. How about we start thinking "outside" the box. Let's build warehouses on the boarders. Better yet, use the shut-down empty factories that are all ready there. Trucks take stuff to the boarders and drop it. It tansfers onto the other countries truck and away it goes. Deborah! Just imagine how many Mexicans, Ameri

  10. 10. Porter M. Corn [ May 27, 2011 @ 01:39PM ]

    Thanks Deborah for an excellent article. You know you've struck a nerve when the so-called "truckers advocates" and their followers jump into the mix.

    What I've found interesting, reviewing the 2275 comments submitted to FMCSA, that none of these "advocates" and opponents of cross border trucking, bothered to make their opinions known to FMCSA when they had the opportunity.

    Instead, the choose to attack the messengers in vile and disgusting manners, always anonymously, and further try to obscure the issue at hand with opinions not supported with facts. Gotta luv em!

  11. 11. Tom Nunlist [ May 31, 2011 @ 05:45PM ]

    @Jason Haggard, @Deborah Lockridge

    The bumper sticker didn't need to say 'Mexican' on it. Border issues with Mexico are extraordinarily well known, so much so that 'U.S. Border Issues' is basically synonymous with 'U.S./Mexican Border Issues'. I challenge you, Jason, to walk into a bar tonight and ask the patrons how they feel that about "U.S. Border Issues" and see how many people immediately voice their opinions on Mexico versus any other of the myriad problems that fall under 'border issues'.

    The bumper sticker is absolutely racist. To riff on Deborah's point about the N-word – if I used the words 'they' or 'them' in certain contexts, everyone would reflexively recognize the stand-in. And be offended. In fact, you, Jason, know what I mean right now, without my explicitly pointing it out. No?

    As for the 'real meaning' of the bumper sticker, it does not simply say 'il

  12. 12. Porter Corn [ May 27, 2011 @ 06:18PM ]

    What "boarders" are you referring to Brian? Oops! Pardon me, you obviously meant "borders".

    So you're worried about "flooding" the US with what, 100 or less trucks? Are you that worried about the ability of America's 4.435 million truckers to compete with 100 or less Mexican truckers? I will admit, Mexican truckers are more disciplined and focused on their job, but really!

    There are warehouses along the southern border, and more being built everyday to handle the steady 20% average annual increase in freight moving both ways, and the warehouses there are bulging with freight. Doing what you suggest would not put anyone back to work. Help wanted signs hang all along the border for those willing to work.


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Author Bio

Deborah Lockridge

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All That's Trucking blog is just that – the editor's take on anything and everything related to trucking, with the help of guest posts from other HDT editors. Author Deborah Lockridge's career as an award-winning trucking journalist started in 1990.


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