Mary Peters

Mexican truck drivers allowed to travel throughout the U.S. under a Bush administration demonstration project may not be proficient in English, despite Department of Transportation assurances to the contrary.

A brochure on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s website instructs Mexican truck drivers, “Did you know … You MUST be able to read and speak English to drive trucks in the United States.”

Still, at the Senate Commerce Committee oversight hearing Tuesday, Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters and DOT Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel III reluctantly admitted under intense questioning from Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., that Mexican drivers were being designated at the border as “proficient in English” even though they could explain U.S. traffic signs only in Spanish.

In the tense hearing, Dorgan accused Peters of being “arrogant” and in reckless disregard of a congressional vote to stop the Mexican trucking demonstration project by taking away funds to continue the project. Toward the end, the senator asked if it were true Mexican truckers could explain U.S. traffic signs only in Spanish when given English proficiency tests at the border.

“Does the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration test for English proficiency at the border include questions about U.S. highway signs?” Dorgan asked.

“Yes,” Scovel replied. “The FMCSA English proficiency test at the border did not originally include U.S. highway signs, but now it does.”

“Do you show a driver an octagonal ‘STOP’ sign at the border and qualify him if he explains the sign means ‘ALTO’?” an incredulous Dorgan pressed.

“Alto” is the Spanish word for “Stop.”

“Yes,” Scovel answered reluctantly. “If the stop sign is identified as ‘alto,’ the driver is considered English proficient.”

Dorgan drew the obvious conclusion, “In other words the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is allowing Mexican drivers in the demonstration project to prove their proficiency in English by responding to the examiner’s questions in Spanish”

Peters responded, “U.S. highway signs comply with international standards. I drive frequently in Mexico and I always recognize the octagonal ‘ALTO’ signs as ‘STOP’ signs.”

Dorgan interrupted.

“Excuse me, Madame Secretary,” he interjected. “The question is not whether you understand Mexican highway signs when driving in Mexico but whether Mexican drivers entering the U.S. in your demonstration project can pass an English proficiency test by answering questions totally in Spanish.”

Peters persisted: “But answering in Spanish, the drivers explain they understand the English-language highway signs.”

Dorgan appeared astounded at the explanation.

“If you answer in Spanish, you’re not English proficient,” he insisted.

“My main concern is safety,” Dorgan emphasized. “We’ve established that there are no equivalencies between Mexican trucks and U.S. trucks. There are no equivalent safety standards. Mexico has no reliable database for vehicle inspections, accident reports or driver’s records.

“Now you tell us Mexican drivers can pass their English proficiency tests in Spanish,” the senator continued, obviously outraged. “The Department of Transportation is telling Congress, ‘We’re doing this and we don’t care.’

“I’ve treated you respectfully today, Secretary Peters, but I don’t respect your decision,” Dorgan said. “You have angered me further with your testimony and you reflect a Bush administration that obviously doesn’t care what Congress thinks.”

As WND reported yesterday, Dorgan accused Peters of defying Congress by parsing words to continue to allow Mexican trucks into the U.S. under the demonstration project, despite the clear intent of Congress to take away funds to bring the program to a halt.

WND also has reported Dorgan joined with Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Reps. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn, and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., in a bipartisan, bicameral request for the General Accountability Office to investigate the DOT’s decision to continue the project.


Media wishing to interview the author of this article, please e-mail Tim Bueler.


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