Vehicles traveling southbound towards the Chaparral Border crossingat Friday afternoon rush hour. Commuters say an increase in southbound inspections by U.S. Customs and Border Protection has caused congestion at other times of day as well. (Alejandro Tamayo / The San Diego Union-Tribune)
Bajadock: we first reported on southbound inspections at San Ysidro in January 2012.
For many cross-border commuters, northbound waits are part of the routine. But in recent weeks, growing numbers say they have been facing lengthy southbound waits as well.
Crossers such as Tijuana resident Mara Camacho, whose children attend school in Lemon Grove, complain of maddeningly slow southbound traffic when returning to Mexico — the result of intensified screenings by U.S. Customs and Border Protection of drivers preparing to leave the United States.
“There’s more of a problem getting into Mexico than getting out of Mexico,” said Camacho, a U.S. citizen who works as a realtor in Tijuana.
While the family is able to cross fairly quickly to San Diego in the SENTRI lanes for crossers who have undergone background checks, they are coming to expect long lines to get back home. On weekday afternoons, “my kids are doing an average of 50 minutes of border wait,” Camacho said.
She is not alone: Complaints about southbound waits have been appearing repeatedly in recent days on Facebook pages where border commuters communicate about the border lines in both directions.
While President Donald Trump has vowed to increase border security, CBP officials say these outbound inspections are not the result of any directive from the new administration. The southbound screenings are just business as usual, said Sally Carrillo, assistant port director at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
“We’re always doing them, it’s part of our routine enforcement,” Carrillo said. “We’re looking for weapons, we’re looking for money that’s going out of the country, we’re not going to stop that.”
Critics of the southbound screenings such as Jason Wells, executive director of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce, question their benefits. ”We think that it’s unnecessary and repetitive. We don’t ask Mexico to pre-inspect what comes northbound.”
Wells said “the timing was terrible…with the administration change, sentiments are just all over the board, why would you heighten inspection during that time?”
Unlike northbound inspections, which screen every crosser, the southbound inspections are occasional and unannounced. “We call it pulse and surge,” Carrillo said Thursday during a breakfast meeting on Thursday hosted by the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce.
Drivers have remarked that the CBP inspections lead to the closing of three lanes leading toward Mexico, creating a traffic bottleneck, even if officers are not inspecting vehicles. Carrillo said the aim of closing off lanes is “so that people will slow down and afford us the opportunity” to conduct inspections.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has issued a statement that reads: “We do not comment on the number, frequency, or timing of outbound inspections.”
The statement adds that the outbound inspections are conducted “when resources permit,” and that they have “successfully stopped child abduction, interdicted criminals fleeing prosecution, interdicted illegal contraband such as controlled substances, precursor drugs, and arms, and uncovered myriad other violations involving currency reporting requirements, stolen vehicles, trade, and immigration.”