Illegal immigrant truckers facing federal crackdown

There is movement afoot in Washington to tighten homeland security in the trucking industry by ensuring that all drivers are checked for U.S. citizenship or legal presence.

There is movement afoot in Washington to tighten homeland security in the trucking industry by ensuring that all drivers are checked for U.S. citizenship or legal presence.

The most recent development was seen when President signed the Safe Port Act last week, which contained a provision that directs the Secretary of Transportation to issue rules that requires applicants for commercial driver licenses prove citizenship or legal presence.

Read Safe Port Act has trucking implications

But in the more immediate future, the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC), which was developed to fulfill the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, will begin to be rolled out at ports across the U.S. by the end of the year. A Transportation Security Administration spokesman said that port truckers, along with all port workers who have access to sensitive areas at maritime facilities, will be scrutinized for citizenship or legal presence under TWIC.

Read TSA testifies on CDL security checks

“That’s one of the three pieces along with criminal history and a check against terror watch lists,” Darrin Kayser, TSA spokesman told FleetOwner.

However, a significant portion of the port truck driver population is believed to be illegal immigrants. Given that so much economic activity occurs at the ports, the TWIC program and the provision of the Safe Port Act call into question the immediate economic impact a crackdown on illegal immigrant drivers would have on the U.S. economy.

The TWIC program will require 750,000 port workers get cards nationwide, including 110,000 truck drivers, TSA said. There will be an 18-month time period for the rollout of the program, due to begin later this year. A final rule that further details the implementation will be issued in the Federal Register “in the coming weeks.”

“Our first priority is that individuals who pose a threat do not gain access to sensitive maritime facilities,” Kayser said. “We’re going to work with the ports to ensure that we’re addressing those [concerns]…[and] do so in a way that ensures that we’re balancing all the needs of the program. This is a potential issue we are aware and we’ll make sure that we address it.”

But so far there appears to be little data available on how many truck drivers would be displaced from the TWIC screening process. The TWIC Notice of Proposed Rule Making listed in the Federal Register said that the program would “enhance the flow of commerce by streamlining the number of credentials and access control procedures.” Its economic cost analysis was limited to the cost of the screening process and of issuing the identification card.

“I think it’s very doubtful [the federal government] has that information,” Gary Petty, president of the National Private Truck Council told FleetOwner. “The volume of cargo coming into U.S. ports over next ten to twenty years is doubling or tripling. We’re not talking about doubling or tripling the availability of drivers that’s for sure. The current economics of the driver market does not bode well for the regulation. This is where the balance of public policy demands and the economic demand for goods comes into play. This is a very tough call.”

“[TWIC] would certainly require [trucking] companies to elevate their hiring standards,” Todd Spencer, executive vp of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. “We’ve run into occasions where drivers were recruited because they didn’t speak [English] and don’t understand the regulations. If they don’t know the regulations, they won’t complain about anyone. The issue we had and raised repeatedly is that the TWIC card won’t just apply to port drivers but every driver that delivers to the ports. Many drivers will pickup or deliver at the port at a frequent or infrequent basis.”

To comment on this article, write to Terrence Nguyen at [email protected]

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