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Congress poised to put safeguards on Mexican trucks

Trucks entering the United States from Mexico will have to meet stricter safety standards if the bill becomes law.
Trucks entering the United States from Mexico will have to meet stricter safety standards if the bill becomes law.  

By Kate Snow
CNN Congressional Correspondent

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a sign that security concerns trump politics in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Congress is poised to pass a once-controversial bill placing safeguards on Mexican trucks entering the United States -- and President Bush intends to sign it.

The House passed the measure as part of a transportation spending bill Friday by an overwhelming 371-11 vote. The bill now goes to the Senate.

The bill would allow Mexican trucks to go beyond an existing 20-mile commercial zone at the U.S. border only after a comprehensive safety review by the Department of Transportation.

 Did you know?
  • A daily average of 4,091 trucks a day entered the U.S. at Laredo, Texas --the busiest truck border crossing with Mexico -- from 1997 to 2000.
  • Other Mexican border points with an average of more than 1,000 daily truck crossings into the U.S. are El Paso, Texas, Otay Mesa/San Ysidro, California, and Hidalgo, Texas.
  • Mexico surpassed Japan in 1999 as the United States' second largest trading partner, behind Canada.
  • Since the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect, trade with Mexico has grown by 16 percent per year -- from about $100 billion in 1994 to $248 billion in 2000.
  • From 1997 to 2000, trucks transported 72 percent of the value of trade between the U.S. and Mexico.

    Source: U.S. Department of Transportation

  • It also requires electronic verification of the license of every Mexican truck driver crossing the border who is carrying high-risk cargo. Mexican trucking firms would be subject to on-site inspections before their trucks are allowed access to American highways, and trucks would be inspected every 90 days. Trucks would be allowed to cross the border only at crossings where inspectors are on duty.

    This summer, the president had pledged to veto the Mexican trucking measure. The White House had argued that Mexican trucks should travel freely in the United States to fulfill U.S. obligations under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

    At that time, Bush said the bill "would clearly discriminate against Mexican truckers" and Republicans accused Democrats of having an anti-Mexican or anti-Hispanic attitude.

    But Democrats, backed by powerful labor unions like the Teamsters, succeeded in passing the measure in the Senate.

    Four months later, the political landscape has changed. The attacks in September led to higher security at U.S. borders and calls for more safety measures.

    Before September 11, most vehicles were waved through U.S. border checkpoints. Now, with border officials at the highest level of alert, nearly every vehicle gets looked over. Inspections include an examination of car trunks and vehicle engine compartments.

    Democrats welcomed the Republicans' dropping of their objections to the bill.

    "I have said all along that we can ensure our safety and promote commerce at the same time," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington. "In August, an overwhelming majority of senators voted for the Murray-Shelby compromise, and now all of its safety principles have been accepted by the White House. This is a victory for safety, for trade, and for both our countries."


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