Trucking companies in the United States and Mexico are violating cabotage rules by misusing Mexican B-1 visa drivers to deliver loads from point to point within the U.S., allege stakeholders in Texas and Mexico.
The stakeholders claim companies are employing Mexican truck drivers with B-1 visas to haul cargo that originated in the U.S. to a final destination inside the country.
Cabotage rules prevent foreign nationals in the U.S. on B-1 business-visitor visas from competing with U.S. truckers on loads moving point to point in the U.S.
“A vast majority of people have jumped into this in the last few years, and they’re cheating the system and nobody’s doing anything about it,” a trucking company owner in South Texas, who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, told FreightWaves.
“It’s not about race. … It’s how these companies move the freight from the U.S. to the rest of the U.S. and back. That’s the problem,” said the owner, whose company has been in business about 10 years.
Misuse of the B-1 visa program by carriers and Mexican truck drivers is “crashing rates,” he said, as well as taking business and drivers from his company.
“What’s happening here is you have a trucking company with a driver and trailer loading in Guadalajara, Mexico. The load goes to a drop yard in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, for example,” he said.
A Mexico-based driver with a B-1 visa picks up the load in Nuevo Laredo. The B-1 driver then takes that load across the border to Laredo, Texas. That’s legal. The driver can either deadhead back to Mexico or take another load as they are headed directly back to Nuevo Laredo.
Instead of returning to Mexico, however, B-1 drivers are being hired by companies to pick up new loads and going further into the U.S., often taking work for less pay. That is illegal. In essence, B-1 drivers are taking jobs from U.S. truckers, according to the Texas trucking company owner.
In some cases U.S. carriers unlawfully use Mexican drivers with B-1 visas, “because they can’t find U.S. drivers,” said the owner. “These guys are running internal split fleets with subsets of drivers.”
In other cases, Mexican carriers are starting U.S. trucking companies and then leasing trucks to themselves using both U.S. and Mexican license plates, he added.
“The Mexican company then applies for Mexican and U.S. plates for the truck, they hire a Mexican driver who can get a B-1 visa at the border, then send the driver to live in their trucks in the U.S., Laredo for example,” said the trucking company owner. “The Mexican trucking company loads in Mexico, they then relay it to the border, a transfer carrier drays the load across the border, the B-1 driver in the U.S.-Mexico truck then picks up the load and takes it further into the U.S.”
The owner said he’s contacted border officials in Laredo about the alleged misuse of B-1 visa drivers.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officials in Laredo declined to be interviewed by FreightWaves for this article but released a statement.
“Foreign national truck drivers with valid B-1 visas may qualify for admission into the U.S. to pick up or deliver cargo that is traveling between Canada/Mexico and the U.S. These drivers may not pick up a shipment at one U.S. location and deliver that shipment to another U.S. location. Picking up a shipment at one U.S. location and delivering that shipment to another U.S. location would be considered cabotage and would violate the terms of the B-1 visa. If companies have concerns about unlawful trade activity, they may report it to CBP at their nearest port of entry or at 1-800-BE-ALERT,” said the CBP statement.
Cabotage regulation falls under the jurisdiction of both CBP and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (ICE), according to a recent article by the Benesch law firm in Cleveland. CBP enforces the regulation of the entry of goods and equipment. ICE enforces the regulation regarding the entry of workers.
“The application of these competing perspectives on cross-border movements can yield conflicting results,” the Benesch article said. “Liability can arise for motor carriers, as well as their drivers personally, where a movement violates one or both of these areas of enforcement. It is often the case that a particular movement is in fact compliant under CBP regulations and yet runs afoul of immigration regulations.”
A cabotage case in Nogales, Arizona, in 2019 resulted in two U.S. trucking company owners being convicted of illegally using Mexican drivers to haul loads from point to point in the U.S.
Jimmy Watson Sr., of JSJ Enterprises, was convicted in U.S. District Court in Tucson on one count of unlawful employment of aliens, according to the Nogales International newspaper.
Watson was sentenced to a year of probation and required to forfeit two trucks and pay a $20,000 fine after pleading guilty.
Luis Rivera, of L&R Trucking and Sunset Trucking in Nogales, pleaded guilty to the same offense. Rivera was also fined $20,000 and forced to forfeit two tractors totaling $40,000 as part of his plea agreement.
According to their plea agreements, Watson and Rivera each hired eight people who were not authorized to work in the U.S. They also concealed the employment of the unauthorized workers.
The arrest and conviction of Watson and Rivera came about after an investigation by Homeland Security Investigations, ICE’s investigative division. The cabotage infractions came to light after the Nogales Border Patrol Station began seeing an uptick in B-1 drivers around 2017.
Homeland Security Investigations did not return calls or messages from FreightWaves for this article.
Mexican trucking officials said when companies break cabotage regulations, it isn’t just hurting the U.S. trucking industry, it is also hurting the freight industry in Mexico.
“In Mexico, our truck drivers, the good ones, the qualified drivers that have the B-1 visa, they get jobs in the U.S. because the U.S. can pay more. We have a real shortage of good, qualified drivers here,” said a trucking company owner in Monterrey, Mexico, who wanted to remain anonymous.
The owner of the Mexican trucking company said he’s losing drivers using B-1 visas to U.S. companies that offer more money.
“The best-qualified drivers, they go to the U.S. because they can make four times or even six times what they can make in Mexico driving a truck,” the executive said. “Here, they make $1,500 a month. In the U.S., working for an American company, they can make $5,000 to $6,000.”
He said he owns a fleet of around 500 trucks. He brings in around 30 new potential drivers each month, but only a few end up as qualified drivers for his company.
“Over the last five, six years I’ve lost many good, qualified drivers to the United States, too many to count, maybe hundreds,” he said. “I think this is a problem between the U.S. and Mexico governments. In the U.S., the trucking industry has too much work, not enough drivers. That’s why so many Mexican drivers want to go work in the U.S.”
In newspaper articles and court documents, Watson and Rivera said part of the reason they employed Mexican B-1 visa drivers was that they could not find enough U.S. drivers to haul their loads.
The driver shortage was the top industry issue for the fourth year in a row on the American Transportation Research Institute’s (ATRI) Critical Issues survey of the trucking industry, released in October.
The driver shortage has been affecting the trucking industry for years, said Daniela Garza, a spokeswoman for Texas-based Visa Solutions.
“We work with over 30 different trucking companies, including some of the biggest and most prominent in the industry, who are all in need of CDL drivers,” Garza told FreightWaves.
Founded around 14 years ago near Houston, Visa Solutions helps bring qualified drivers from foreign countries to the U.S. through immigration programs such as the H-2B nonimmigrant visa and EB-3 immigrant visa programs.
The H-2B and EB-3 programs allow qualified foreign workers to obtain permanent resident status in the U.S. under certain conditions.
“There is a huge shortage of qualified CDL drivers across the nation, and turnover rates are through the roof. That is why trucking companies turn to us to help them supplement their recruitment efforts and hire international talent under an EB-3 visa,” Garza said. “We do everything in compliance with the U.S. government, and our program does not allow any applicant who has previous immigration or criminal records. We perform thorough background checks to ensure all of our applicants are in compliance and will work hard for their sponsoring employer as they want to achieve the American dream.”
The issue of foreign truck drivers using federal visas to take American trucking jobs is not limited to Mexico. A similar situation is happening in Maine involving Canadian trucking companies, logging operations and the use of federal H-2A visas.
Officials in Maine allege Canadian trucking companies using H-2A visas along the northern border have been hurting truckers in the U.S. logging industry.
“For years, loggers in northern Maine have presented evidence that Canadian truckers are abusing the H-2A visa system to take log-hauling jobs away from American citizens,” said Jared Golden, a U.S. representative from Maine, in a March 18 release. “This is a straightforward issue and federal cabotage law is clear. Canadian drivers cannot do domestic loads, otherwise known as point-to-point deliveries within the United States.”
The federal H-2A temporary visa program allows a company that has advertised for workers for 60 days with no success to hire foreigners on a temporary visa for up to 10 months annually.
“What we’re seeing is companies misusing the H-2A program in an effort to circumvent federal law. Canadian truckers are abusing the H-2A program when they make daily commutes into northern Maine to participate in the American domestic logging market, competing directly with Mainers for jobs and depressing wages,” Golden said.
In Texas, the trucking company owner hopes Border Patrol, CBP or Homeland Security Investigations will begin to take a closer look at enforcement of the cabotage law along the Texas-Mexico border.
“I don’t have any problem with competition. But there are guys that are breaking the rules, and there are clear rules that are being skirted,” he said. “The story is the same with my partners in Mexico. There are trade laws, customs laws for a reason. It’s really about illegal labor. Unfortunately, those guys are being underpaid for the work that they’re actually doing. They are companies doing this illegally and they’re taking advantage of everybody involved.”
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