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Trade Vs. Security
Trade Vs. Security

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AIR DATE: June 5, 2013

BY MONICA ORTIZ URIBE -- Alejandro Rivera is a patient man. Not exactly a quality you'd expect in a big rig trucker. That's because he probably does more waiting than actual driving. Rivera chauffeurs goods between the U.S./Mexico border for an American logistics company based in El Paso, Texas. On a good day he'll accomplish two round trips, rarely adding more than 70 miles to his odometer.

That's long lines at the border crossing. A complaint you'll hear from San Diego to Brownsville. Some 5 million trucks per year are subject to costly delays as a result of rigorous security measures put in place in the last decade. These delays affect the timeliness of a trucker’s delivery. And for their customers time is money.  

Chris Wilson studies the economics of trade for the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington D.C. He says trade between the U.S. and Mexico quintupled in the last 20 years. Some 6 million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Mexico. We're talking companies like Dell and Ford as well as smaller businesses that make medical devices or auto parts.   

Just how long are the wait times at the border? Let's go back to our trucker Alejandro Rivera. I decided to ride with him on one of his daily deliveries to see for myself.

At the start of our journey Rivera alerts his dispatcher. We begin at a factory in the Mexican border city of Juárez.

Rivera is carrying a load of nude, plastic mannequins. That's right, mannequins-- like the ones you see in stores at the mall. They're made by factory workers in Juárez who earn $10 a day. Rivera will transport them to a warehouse in El Paso about 20 miles away. From there the mannequins will ship across the U.S. to stores like Nike and JCPenney.

At the international bridge I have to leave Alejandro and cross by foot. Security protocol won't allow anyone other than the driver inside the truck.  

This is where the waiting begins. Halfway up the bridge, I call a supervisor to get an update on our driver.

Turns out U.S. Customs ordered his truck to be X-Rayed. After that an officer will unload half his cargo and inspect the trailer for anything illegal. The company Rivera works for has a special certification called CTPAT that usually allows their trucks expedited passage. Only about one percent of their cargo goes through lengthy searches like this one. Before, when Rivera worked for a non-certified company he says he faced prolonged inspections everyday.

All commercial traffic at this crossing must clear four separate agencies: Mexican customs, American customs, The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Texas Department of Public Safety. In total our driver clocks in at 2 and half hours.

While most agree that inspections are necessary, trade advocates argue that an overemphasis on security is hurting economic development. We’ll hear more on that in my next story.

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