The Unintended Consequence of New Port Security Rules

TRUCKERS servicing the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are carrying heavy loads these days, and we're not talking about their cargo. Many could soon lose their jobs.

New federal antiterrorism laws meant to protect seaports may put many drivers who pose no terrorist threat out of work in L.A.-Long Beach, according to Tuesday's Wall Street Journal.

Starting later this year, port workers must present proof of citizenship, or the legal right to work in the United States, and submit to a criminal background check that screens out serious felons.

These are sensible requirements, but it may mean slowdowns at the ports since no one is sure how many illegal immigrants or serious felons drive trucks. The consensus is that there are plenty of both.

New regulations aside, the Southern California terminals already have a driver shortage. Turnover is high because the work is hard and the pay is low - as little as $8 an hour.

This is bad news for an economy that relies on cheap labor to move goods.

There isn't an easy fix. Transporters and retailers don't want to pay drivers more, and rail remains too expensive for local hauls. Easing up on the security regulations would put everyone at risk.

Local estimates were not available, but nationwide the number of drivers who are in the United States illegally range from 20 percent to 50percent, according to the Journal article.

About 90 percent of truck drivers at the local ports are Hispanic immigrants from Latin America, not exactly a hotbed of Islamic extremism.

But we agree with the immigration requirements since drivers should not be able to enter the ports if they are not able to work in this country legally.

Those with rap sheets should be looked at individually to determine if they are reformed.

Convictions show poor judgment - and susceptibility to terrorists who may pay them for port access - but most of the truckers with records are probably trying to make a legitimate living and have cleaned up their lives.

There are, of course, plenty of good reasons to weed out illegal immigrants and felons, but the real question is who will take their place?

The only real solution is for transportation companies to pay more, something that would improve their chances of getting legal drivers without criminal records. And higher pay would attract better candidates, just like it does in most fields.

Market forces work just fine in other professions, and they should be applied to trucking as well. The pay has been artificially low for too long. The labor is cheap but much of it is illegal.

If that means slightly higher prices for consumers buying foreign-made goods, so be it.

Everyone is going to have help carry the load to make the ports safe and the business of moving goods legal.