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Legislation will have marked effect on Valley

July 28, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — Defying the threat of a presidential veto, the U.S. Senate is expected to pass legislation this week that will keep Mexican trucks trapped into the four-mile commercial zone here for two to three more years.

Senators from the border states of Arizona and Texas — but not California — said they will fight to have the legislation rewritten. They favor a White House plan that would give Mexican trucks full access to U.S. roads on Jan. 1, 2002.

Calexico and areas surrounding the Calexico East Port of Entry are caught in the middle of the legislative wrangling. Whichever version of the legislation is passed will impact the roads, economy and quality of life of Valley residents.

If the Senate passes legislation that can withstand a Bush veto, truck-inspection facilities similar to the California Highway Patrol's facility near the Calexico East Port of Entry will be mandatory at 27 ports along the international border with Mexico.

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Because the facilities would take two to three years to build, Mexican trucking companies would still have to use the "shuttle system" — mid-size big rigs motoring back and forth across the border all day within a four-mile buffer zone — to get their goods to market.

This system impacts the Calexico area more than the rest of the Valley because the trucks and the trucking terminals where the goods are transferred would be confined to the four-mile commercial zone while facilities in other parts of the country are built.

If the legislation is rewritten to appease the White House, Mexican trucks would be allowed full access to all county roads.

This could pose problems for the entire county and not just the Calexico area, according to the Imperial Valley's congressman, Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine.

He voted for legislation that would delay opening the border because the county does not have the infrastructure to handle the traffic and damage the trucks inflict on roads, according to his press secretary.

Supporters of the president's plan argue Congress is unfairly treating Mexican trucking companies because multi-million dollar truck scales and "full-time inspection facilities" are not required along the Canadian border.

Bush said, "Our Mexican counterparts, frankly, should be treated just like the Canadians are treated."

The contentious part of the legislation for Bush and his supporters is the "more inspectors and scales" language of an amendment tacked onto the bill last week by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Bush supporters have argued that construction of these facilities would cost too much, take too long and further delay compliance with the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Bush has proposed letting the trucks in first, then auditing the Mexican companies over the next 18 months. Under pressure, the administration said last week it also would require periodic inspections of vehicles as they cross the border.

Murray and her supporters said the president's plan would amount to an inspector asking a trucker to "check a box" to determine if the truck is in compliance with safety regulations.

Bush has threatened to veto the entire appropriations package if the Senate does not amend it this week.

Bush opponents said the bipartisan 70-30 Senate "procedural" vote Thursday signaled hey could indeed muster the 67 votes to override any veto.

At larger Mexican border crossings such as San Ysidro and Brownsville, Texas, Mexican trucks are allowed into a commercial zone of 20 miles on average.

The trucks are forced into a four-mile zone here because of federal guidelines that use population to determine how large the commercial zone should be.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or claverie7@hotmail.com

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