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.
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