Mexican trucking companies are operating illegally outside the limits set by the North American Free Trade Agreement, said Kenneth Mead, inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Trucks operated by 68 Mexican companies were working in at least 24 states outside of the border states in 1998, Mead said in response to a query by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-AL. The trucks ranged as far west as Washington, north to the Dakotas, east to New York and Florida.
Mead's letter to Shelby ignited a political storm. Led by Rep. James Oberstar, D-MN, and supported by Teamsters General President James Hoffa, more than 250 congressmen wrote President Clinton demanding that the U.S. remain closed to interstate Mexican trucking until safety enforcement improves.
Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, the border is scheduled to open to Mexican trucks in January 2000. The border states were to have opened in 1995, but the Clinton administration has kept them closed, except for commercial zones, due to concerns about safety and labor competition.
Mead found the Mexican presence by analyzing DOT's roadside inspection data. Mexican carriers that operate legally in border commercial zones have U.S. DOT identification numbers -- numbers that showed up in inspection reports from the 24 states.
Mexican trucks also operated illegally within the border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, Mead found. They are supposed to stay inside the commercial zones in those states -- areas ranging from 5 to 20 miles next to the border -- but they were found throughout the states.
Rep. Oberstar has put Mead to work, digging for more details. He asked the DOT watchdog to investigate the 68 companies, analyze their actual safety performance and determine what DOT intends to do about the Mexican incursions.
These are the states where the Mexican trucks were found: Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey.