The U.S. government has no way of knowing for certain whether Mexican truck drivers applying for participation in a Department of Transportation program giving access to U.S. highways have criminal histories or traffic convictions.

The problem is Mexico maintains no reliable national criminal database or driving history database to check its drivers, who as WND reported, would be eligible to participate in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Free and Secure Trade system, or FAST.

FAST would enable Mexican trucks carrying loads of consumer goods into the United States to cross the border in as little as 15 seconds, according to government officials setting up the procedures.

Physical inspections of truck trailers or shipment containers are kept to a minimum as they move speed through specially designated lanes.

WND reported the Department of Transportation plans to certify the first participating Mexican trucking company as early as the end of April or the beginning of May.

The Department of Homeland Security procedures for FAST driver applications on the southern border specify the application will be sent to the Mellon Financial Corporation and to the Customs and Border Protection risk assessment center in St. Albans, Vt.

Mike Dunn, a spokesman for Mellon Bank, told WND he deferred to DHS in reference to all questions about the bank’s participation in the process.

The DHS procedures for FAST driver applications on the northern border specify the application is first submitted for risk assessment to a Canadian consortium of the Canada Border Service Agency, Citizenship and Immigration Service for Canada and Canada’s Agence de Revenue.

DHS procedures make no mention of contacting any Mexican authority for FAST driver applications on the southern border.

DHS spokesman Eric Blum conceded to WND that no national criminal database exists in Mexico.

“We do get criminal information on Mexican citizens from Interpol and the FBI,” Blum argued. “It’s not as vibrant as the data we get from Canada. There are short-comings to the Mexican criminal data, but we do get criminal information on Mexican national citizens.”

Blum, however, admitted the Mexican criminal data “may not be what we would like to see.”

“It’s not one, clean database for all Mexican criminal records,” he said. “But we’re confident that we can take other steps to assure that we are able to secure the borders and ports of entry from criminal activity.”

WND pointed out to Blum that the procedures specified on the DHS website for a Mexican commercial driver to obtain FAST identification did not specify criminal history checks through the FBI or Interpol.

“We use multiple systems at DHS for everything we do – watch list and ‘no-fly’ lists and several different criminal lists, including FBI and Interpol,” Blum responded. “Just because our FAST identification applications don’t say we use the FBI or Interpol doesn’t preclude us using those resources. Don’t confuse what we do to check Mexican criminal backgrounds and the FAST application process.”

Blum said he didn’t know if every FAST application from Mexico goes through Interpol.

“There are a lot of things that we do that are secure information that I’m not privy to,” he said. “One FAST application from Mexico may go through this database and not through that one. The next one may go through two or three, I don’t know.”

The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the AAMVA, provides the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration with data from the Mexican Licencia Federal Information System, the LFIS, regarding traffic violations and conviction histories in Mexico for Mexicans holding Mexican commercial drivers licenses.

Jason King, AAMVA spokesman, told WND he cannot vouch for the accuracy or completeness of the commercial driver histories maintained by the Mexican LFIS.

“I don’t think anyone here has done a research study to see how effective Mexico’s commercial drivers’ database system is,” King told WND. “It’s a fair question, but we don’t really know the answer, so it would be hard for me to characterize how effective the LFIS system or data really are.”

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration relies on the LFIS in issuing OP-1(MX) licenses to Mexican commercial drivers who are seeking to participate in the DOT program to drive in the U.S. beyond commercial zones.

Galen Monroe, spokesman for the Teamsters Union, said the issues are not new to his members.

“There are many questions about the safety and security of cross-border trucks that must be answered before we allow them onto our highways,” he told WND.

Rick Craig, director of Regulatory Affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, had a similar reaction.

“Unfortunately, this is exactly what we expected,” Craig told WND. “Despite claims by administration officials to the contrary, there simply are no comprehensive or reliable databases to track criminal histories, traffic violations or accidents for Mexican-domiciled truck drivers.

“It is no wonder that the administration has been so guarded against providing specific details about the pilot program to the public,” Craig continued. “They sure seem to be trying to figure things out as they go.”

As recently as last month, Mexican President Felipe Calder?n announced plans to submit to the Mexican Congress a federal criminal justice reform package that would create for the first time a reliable nationwide database to track criminals and monitor criminal activity across jurisdictions.

The Justice in Mexico Institute at the University of San Diego gave no date for the anticipated introduction of the legislation.

Calder?n’s proposal is aimed at creating a Mexican federal criminal database that does not now reliably exist. Criminal data in Mexico is retained primarily at the state level. Today, the national aggregation of criminal data is made problematic by substantial differences in the criminal codes of Mexico’s 31 states.

The Drug Enforcement Administration continues to report Mexican commercial truck drivers play a major role in the country’s drug cartel traffic into the U.S.

A DEA 2007 report on drug trafficking in Arizona noted, “Large scale marijuana traffickers utilize tractor-trailers as well as refrigerated utility trailers to transport loads through established U.S. routes.”

The report also said the major drug cartels in Mexico continue to utilize commercial trucks to smuggle cocaine “across the border on a regular basis through heavily trafficked ports of entry.”

In an e-mail sent to WND, Blum wrote, “The FAST program is valuable because it is designed to overcome any data shortcoming.”

Blum explained drivers who apply to FAST are vetted by the Vermont CBP facility.

“This key component of the process,” Blum’s e-mail explained, “is a very extensive interview with a CBP officer at the impacted port that is used to illicit information on employment, residence and other elements. This is an extensive interview that far exceeds the ability to interact with non-FAST drivers. This information is invaluable in safeguarding the borders today and into the future.”

Blum explained the value of FAST lanes: “The FAST program offers dedicated lanes for FAST participants, meaning they can bypass hours-long lines for inspection. The dedicated lanes are the lure for FAST. There is no reduction in security measures for FAST participants. FAST is an important border security enhancement.

“We deploy the country’s largest law enforcement agency, using the most modern tools, taking advantage of the most aggressive intelligence and developing programs like FAST that make our borders more secure than they have been in history,” Blum’s e-mail concluded. “The DOT pilot will not impact our security standards.”

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