Two trucking company owners have been indicted by a federal grand jury for violation of long standing (but until now not always enforced) cabotage laws.
Nogales trucking company owners Jimmy Watson and Luis Rivera were indicted on charges of harboring illegal aliens and employing illegal aliens for profit, according to the Nogales International.
Watson, who operates JSJ Enterprises, had 15 trucks and trailers seized by federal authorities as part of the indictment. Rivera, who operates L&R Trucking and Sunset Trucking, had 16 trucks and trailers seized as part of the crackdown. Other trucking companies in the area also say that they have had trucks seized by federal agents.
The charges stem from a dispute that has been boiling for months between the trucking companies and Border Patrol over cabotage regulations that are included in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). These rules restrict the ways that foreign drivers may pick up or deliver loads within the U.S., but they were not heavily enforced.
Scott Brown, Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations in Arizona explains the rule, “Simplest explanation is, under the provisions of NAFTA, Mexican truck drivers on B-1 visas can drive goods into the U.S. as they do every day, and can transport them until they hit the point of entering domestic commerce, which basically means the first stop in the U.S. What has been happening as systemic problem in Nogales and other border communities, is you have trucking companies that are using B-1 truck drivers to in violation of cabotage rules to transport loads that have already entered domestic commerce.”
However, things changed in late 2017 when Border Patrol officially warned the Nogales trucking companies that they would be stepping up enforcement of cabotage rules after agents noticed a pattern of violations at the I-19 checkpoint. Border Patrol says that many companies were using U.S. drivers to get though the checkpoints and then swapping out drivers once the truck passed through.
After receiving the warning, both Rivera and Watson complained that they were unable to find enough U.S. drivers to replace their Mexican drivers. Watson also reportedly moved most of his operation across the border to Mexico.
Last Thursday, federal agents invited local media to come along as they served search warrants to the trucking companies. You can see video of the raid in the news report below.