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Filner opposes bill opening U.S. border to Mexican trucks

December 01, 2001|By SAM SCOTT, Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — A San Diego congressman was the sole area legislator and one of only two Democrats to vote against a bill that would open the U.S. border to Mexican trucks.

On Friday, the House voted 371-11 to approve a $60 billion transportation spending bill that includes a provision that would allow Mexican trucks on U.S. roads.

Mexican trucks have been confined to a commercial corridor zone along the border.

In Calexico, the zone extends four miles beyond the city limits. In bigger border cities, it extends as far as 20 miles. The Senate is expected to pass the bill next week.

Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, said he was not satisfied with the bill's safety requirements, which include electronic checks on the license of every Mexican truck driver hauling hazardous material, on-site inspection of trucking companies before they receive access to the United States and inspection of rigs every 90 days. He said the bill did not provide sufficient resources to make the safety checks.


"I am convinced that we're heading down an unsafe path here that will harm people," said Filner, who will run for a redrawn congressional district that spans the entire border, including Imperial Valley, in 2002. President Bush had lobbied hard for the legislation, threatening to veto any bill that discriminated against Mexican trucks.

The president's original plan — which would have allowed Mexican companies to operate on U.S. roads for 18 months while their safety records were checked — met with stiff resistance in Congress, stalling passage until the safety requirements were added.

Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed by Mexico, the United States and Canada, Mexican trucks should have been able to enter the United States in 1995.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, who represents Imperial County and parts of eastern San Diego County, supported the bill, although he originally supported an amendment that would have banned the trucks.

The veteran Republican said the country was bound to honor its trade agreements, even those he opposed.

"These new safety restrictions … were the best we could get from the Senate," Hunter said.

Import-export companies and others who supported free access for Mexican trucks said that the safety limits were discriminatory and unwarranted.

Fears of Mexican trucks are overblown, said Dr. James Giermanski, an international trucking expert at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina. He said Canadian trucks operating in the United States pose more of a risk because Canadian truckers can cross the longer, less patrolled northern border.

"We have more security on the southern border than we have anywhere," he said.

Mexican and American trucks inspected crossing the border in California have an almost identical failure rate on safety tests, said Sgt. Peter Camm of the California Highway Patrol, who inspects trucks at Otay Mesa and Calexico, the state's two truck ports.

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