In a speech last month, President George W. Bush said attempts to keep Mexican trucks off U.S. roads over safety concerns amounts to “discrimination against a friend of America.”

The President branded as “anti-Hispanic” critics of efforts to open the U.S. to Mexican trucks as required by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

“There are some voices that want to wall us off from Mexico. They want to build a wall,” Bush said at the opening of a job-training facility aimed at Hispanic workers in Albuquerque, NM. “I say to them who want to condemn our neighbors to the south to poverty that I refuse to accept that type of isolationist and protectionist attitude.

“There are some people who say we shouldn't allow our friends to the south to send their trucks into the U.S.,” Bush added. “I say that is discrimination against Mexico. I say if we are going to have NAFTA, we ought to enforce all of NAFTA. I believe we can have safety on our highways without discriminating against our neighbors to the south.”

NAFTA, which the U.S. signed along with Canada and Mexico, gave trucking companies from all three nations the right to operate freely within the signatories' borders. However, the U.S. has delayed full implementation of those rights for Mexican truckers, largely because of concerns voiced over Mexican truck safety. Currently, Mexican trucks can operate only within a 20-mile border area in four southwestern states.

Former President Clinton supported the border restrictions on Mexican trucks. Shortly after taking office, Bush pledged he would fully open the border in January 2002. But Congress has moved to block the opening, garnering support from both Democrats and Republicans who say they are concerned about the impact Mexican truck operators would have on highway safety.

On August 1, the Senate approved a bill calling for tough safety standards for Mexican trucks operating in the U.S. The measure echoes a bill passed by the House of Representatives in June. The President has stated he will veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.