Category Archives: US-Mexican Border

San Ysidro Sentri v Bus

Recently crossing border at San Ysidro/TJ headed to San Diego, was in the second lane from right(marked #4).  Did not realize until this day that is the lane that tour buses also travel.

Happened to be frozen in line for approx 10 minutes while two buses inserted themselves into the right two lanes. Traffic in both lanes was stopped.  Don’t know why buses seem to take a while.  Do they have a CBP officer board the bus to eyeball the crowd?  Anyone have experience on a bus with this?

As I approached the entry funnel of signs/eqpt/cameras an officer greeted me and asked me to stay at this point, approx 30 yards from the CBP shack, until the last bus was “processed”.  The guy also told me that it would be a few minutes for the CBP dude in the shack to log out and log in after bus processing.

An orange plastic traffic barrier was placed at the shack.  ?

Another 12 minutes expired.  I could see anxiety in the drivers of cars behind me.

When finally waved up to the shack for the “Where are you going today, anything to declare, what were you doing in Mexico?” greeting, two CBP guys were complaining about the stupid computer giving them fits. Got a “sorry for the delay”.

Lucky me was not pressed for time this afternoon, but, what kind of procedure is so special about a bus that leads to this flustercluck?

Maybe the buses former/usual lanes #1 & #2 are behind the curtain in the construction zone?

This was my first bus attack delay at San Ysidro.  I believe I’ll make certain to avoid the first two lanes on the right side in future.


Uber in Baja


There is a vast difference between what Uber was when they started in Tijuana in 2015 and what the company is now. Cars were new and clean. Drivers used to offer water, mints, candy, or phone chargers. Most drivers were courteous and asked passengers what radio station they would like to listen to; some drivers would even get out of the car to open the doors. Uber quickly won the hearts of tijuanenses, as citizens preferred the convenience of the ride-sharing app to the beat-up taxis that had to be hailed from the sidewalk.

Taxis weren’t happy, and with the help of the government, they tried to shut down Uber operations in Tijuana. A legal tug-of-war started between Uber and taxis, who fought and protested to protect their territory. Citizens overwhelmingly supported Uber. In July 2017, the conflict came to a head when taxi drivers at the border beat up and hospitalized tourists trying to order an Uber ride.

The San Ysidro border crossing in Mexico is now patrolled to avoid confrontations between Uber drivers, taxis, and customers. The PedWest border crossing installed signs adjacent to the taxi pickup area that read “zone for applications and alternative transit.”

Since this summer, a decline in the quality of Uber service has been noticed. “That was the worst Uber ride I had,” my girlfriend told me when she got home in August. “He was rude, he smelled bad, and he was blasting horrible music. I asked him to turn it down or change the station. He adjusted his mirror, shrugged, and barely turned it down. I was afraid to speak after that.”

Customers complain about the service, drivers complain about the pay. The Facebook group “Uber Tijuana,” with over 135,000 members, is a constant source of information, misinformation, complaints, memes, drama, and even missed connections between drivers and customers.

In the Facebook group, drivers post screen caps or photos complaining of the worst clients they had or about customers that only go a few blocks away. The minimum fare is 28 pesos, less than $2. Clients post pictures complaining about certain drivers attitudes or about not getting picked up. Others try to sell, rent their cars, or hire Uber drivers. Some shady accounts offer to sell Uber credits or paid rides.

After I posted the question of who were the best or worst clients, a driver responded, “I just kicked a guy out for being a princess.” I asked him to elaborate. He wrote back, “For safety when I pick up a person, I lock the doors and open the passenger door. The dude kept trying to open the back door and then came up to me asking if there was something wrong with my back doors. He got in with an annoyed expression and said ‘agh, whatever, let’s go.’ I told him to get out, I already canceled the trip. He asked me why, to [which] I responded because I want too [sic].”

Another driver responded, “The best, the one that invited me to drink and paid for the prostitutes. The worse, the one that took a shit in the backseat.”

My post didn’t get as much response as a popular meme that reads:

“Uber in 2015 — Good afternoon sir, would like water? Candy? A charger for your phone? Uber in 2017 — Sup dog? Don’t tell me it bothers you that I’m smoking crack.”

Tijuana Pollution Causes Border Patrol Sickness

Headaches, rashes, infections, breathing problems.

An increasing number of U.S. Border Patrol agents at the Imperial Beachstation have reported a host of health problems since February, when an estimated 143 million gallons of Mexican sewage spilled into the Tijuana River Valley they patrol.

It’s not one of the risks typically associated with policing the border, said Christopher Harris, a union representative for National Border Patrol Council’s Local 1613.

“They’re willing to put up with the normal hazards of law enforcement,” Harris said. “We understand that’s part of our job. We get shot at. We accept all that. We do our best to mitigate it. We wear vests. We have trauma kits. But we can’t mitigate sewage and chemicals.”

In June, he documented more than 30 agents who had reported sewage-related illnesses. Since then, that number has nearly tripled, to at least 83 agents.

The Imperial Beach Border Patrol Station has about 300 employees who patrol the U.S.-Mexico border from the Pacific Ocean through the Tijuana River Valley. Some work on foot, some in ATVs or SUVs, others on horseback.

The sewage leak in February and subsequent leaks flowed into the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park, which covers 71.5 miles of dirt roads and paths.

The muck sticks around for a long time as it makes its way to the ocean. It settles into the riverbanks, overflows during rains and dries out in hot weather. It is impossible for Border Patrol agents to avoid.

While patrolling on their ATVs on Nov. 10 after a rainstorm, Harris said three agents experienced ear, nose and throat problems. One said he had a strange rash inside his nose.

Border Patrol Agent Joel Sevilla said that in the summer he had to patrol areas where much of the sewage flowed.

“I had a really bad nasal infection, headaches and trouble breathing…. I was losing my breath really fast,” he said. “I’m not known for that because I’m very active. So I had to go to the doctor’s and the first time I went, they said that I had a nasal infection. They gave me some antibiotics and they treated it and it went away for like two or three days. Then it started happening again…. What was worse were the headaches because I couldn’t sleep.”

Sevilla went back to the doctor four or five times. He had to leave the prestigious ATV unit and now patrols in an SUV.

“I don’t get the headaches anymore because I’m not riding around in all that dust,” he said. “When the water dries out, it turns into dust and that’s what we breathe.”

Michael Scappechio, a spokesman with the U.S. Border Patrol, said the agency is aware of the agents’ health problems and is assessing the problem to develop short- and long-term solutions.

“Common reported acute injuries have ranged from upper-respiratory ailments to burns on extremities,” he said. “Personnel have also reported damage to boots and gloves while performing their duties.”

The issue of cross-border raw sewage is a complex, decades-old issue, Scappechio said, and the Border Patrol is working with a number of stakeholders to address both the remediation of the affected areas as well as the safety challenges.

“Pinpointing the locations and sources of spills, including the contents of each incident, are critical to addressing the health and safety of our personnel,” he said. “It is the intent on the part of CBP and USBP, that the collaborative effort amongst the stakeholders involved, will result in both a safer and healthier environment in the Tijuana River Valley shortly and for the long run.”

As the number of cases continued to rise this past summer, Harris said Kevin McAleenan, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, visited the Imperial Beach station.

As a result of that visit, “my understanding is every week or every two weeks he gets an update on what they’re doing,” Harris said. “Now, understand their constraints. They’re not a scientific organization. They’re not an EPA [Environmental Protection Agency]. They’re not a research organization. They’re doing the best they can to find money and try to mitigate.”

Harris said there was talk of building some showers where agents could decontaminate, but he wondered how you can talk about decontamination without knowing what chemicals you’re decontaminating. What’s needed, he said, are more reporting on spills and more testing of the sewage water.

That responsibility falls to a small federal agency.

The International Boundary and Water Commission is in charge of documenting each spill. A branch of the State Department with approximately 250 employees, it is charged with developing binational solutions to issues that arise on sanitation, water quality and flood control in the border region.

The commission has an office in San Diego and runs the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant at the U.S.-Mexico border. Completed in 1997, the facility treats 25 million gallons of Tijuana sewage per day.

However, the plant can’t treat all the sewage flowing across the border. Tijuana’s population – which officially stands at 1.56 million, but unofficially may be as high as 2 million – has outpaced the city’s ability to provide adequate and updated sewage infrastructure. As a consequence, sewage spills occur frequently.

Barbara Zaragoza writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

San Diego Border Wall

San Diego Tunnel Rats


It’s a name only a bureaucrat could love: Confined Spaces Entry Team.

Squad members call themselves something else: Tunnel Rats.

For the past seven years, they’ve been going underground to locate, map and seal off the tunnels used by cartels to smuggle drugs from Mexico to San Diego and beyond.

Theirs is a little-known part of the high-stakes hide-and-seek game that plays out daily along the border. While much of the attention, especially lately, has been focused on walls and what happens above ground, more than 80 tunnels have been found in California and Arizona since 2011.

San Diego is a hotbed for a lot of this. Warehouses constructed close to the border in Otay Mesa and Tijuana provide camouflage: an out-of-view place for a tunnel to start and another for it to end.

It’s also where the clay soil is especially good for this kind of thing — not as soft and collapse-likely as it is to the west, and not as rocky and hard as it is to the east.

“This,” said Lance LeNoir, gesturing at the warehouses and the ground between them, “is what makes San Diego grand central for the long, sophisticated tunnels.”

Discovered in December 2009, it stretches 762 feet from a warehouse in Tijuana toward a warehouse on the U.S. side, just west of the Otay Mesa Port of Entry.

The tunnel is 6 feet tall by 4 feet wide, large by tunneling standards, and 100 feet below the surface in some spots, sloped to allow groundwater to flow out of the way.

The traffickers had been working on it for about 18 months and had not yet finished when it was discovered after a tip from an informant. A dozen people were arrested inside.

Now what’s left of the tunnel, about 30 feet, is used for training by the Tunnel Rats. They practice rescues and test their equipment there.

It’s where they take government officials and the media when they want to show the kind of subterranean activity they are up against.

During a recent visit, LeNoir was asked whether he believed, at that moment, someone somewhere was digging a tunnel.

“Of course they are,” he said. “Of course.”

A Nod to Vietnam

The Tunnel Rats borrow their name from the Vietnam War forces who went underground in search of enemy fighters, sometimes engaging in hand-to-hand combat.

“They had it a lot tougher than we do,” LeNoir said. “We use the name in homage to them.”

 (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

They wear T-shirts with “Tunnel Rat” on the back, above a drawing of a fierce-looking rodent carrying a gun in one hand and a flashlight in the other. Below the drawing is a Latin phrase, also from Vietnam, that translates into “Not worth a rat’s a–.”

Several of the team members are military veterans, although none is old enough to have served in Vietnam, and their uniforms resemble those worn by soldiers: camouflage pants, helmets, vests, guns.

Team members volunteer for the assignment, and to join they first have to crawl through a two-foot wide pipe for about 20 yards. That helps weed out agents who are claustrophobic and maybe don’t know it, and it also gets them ready for what they’ll face in the field.

Increasingly, the tunnels are getting narrower and shorter — quicker to build that way, and cheaper. One found last year was only 14 inches wide.

Getting inside the Galvez Tunnel is simple by comparison. Visitors climb down 70 feet of metal ladders, installed in a concrete shaft built after the underground smuggling route was discovered. It intersects the tunnel in a spot located between the primary and secondary border fences.

The air feels heavy at the bottom, and warm. Overhead lights illuminate the sides of the tunnel, which still bear the tool marks of those who built it.

Galvez gets its name from a street in Tijuana that runs next to the warehouse where the tunnel originated. It’s considered “sophisticated” because of its length and some of the things found inside it.

But “sophisticated” is a relative term.

“These tunnels wouldn’t meet any mining or construction standards that we are familiar with,” LeNoir said. If wood is found inside shoring up the walls and roof, it’s not because of a devotion to structural integrity, he said, but because a collapse happened while they were working and they had to fix it

“When you see 2-by-4s attached to plywood with drywall screws, you know you’re not looking at something that’s been carefully engineered,” he said.

Here’s what team members sometimes call the tunnels: “Holes in the ground at significant depth.”

What does impress them, though, is the persistence of the tunnelers, who aren’t always there by choice, conscripted at gunpoint by the cartels. Impressed by the workload. (Multiple eight-hour shifts, sometimes all day, using power drills, picks and shovels. They eat and sleep on site.) Impressed by the dirt removal. (It’s put it in sandbags and stored in the warehouses, or if there’s an empty room, just piled there.)

“They’re willing to dig and dig and dig without really knowing where they’re going to end up,” LeNoir said. “You have to respect their imagination and their audacity.”

Deja Vu

In our high-tech age, people sometimes think finding tunnels should be easy. Just stick motion-detectors in the ground, they say. Just use ground-penetrating radar.

It’s not that simple. Many such devices are susceptible to interference from passing cars and trucks and from underground power lines. They’re set off inadvertently by animals or the wind.

Still, the hunt for a silver bullet continues. The eight border wall prototypes recently built in Otay Mesa are being tested now for their ability to, among other things, deter tunneling. Each is supposed to include sensors that will detect someone approaching the wall or trying to breach it.

Until that kind of solution arrives, investigators usually find tunnels the old-fashioned way. They patrol the border. They talk to warehouse owners and occupants and ask them to report anything unusual or suspicious.

The Tunnel Rats are part of the Drug Tunnel Task Force, which also includes representatives from Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Agency and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It was formed in 2003 as officials noticed that even though most drugs are driven across the border at ports of entry, hidden inside cargo trucks and other vehicles, tunnels were becoming a major player.

At the Calexico one — the first time traffickers are known to have purchased land and built a house on it to conceal a tunnel — agents found more than a ton of marijuana. That was a small find: Other tunnels have led them to caches of more than 20 tons.

Originally, the underground team was focused on smugglers who used existing storm drains and sewer systems to move people across the border illegally. As more and more cross-border tunnels were discovered — 13 in the San Diego sector alone in 2006 — the team began focusing on that. They developed skills in geology, air monitoring and emergency extractions.

After a tunnel is found and cleared of smugglers, the Tunnel Rats are called in to check it for evidence and map it. They make sure the air is safe and the ground stable, and then crawl in with tape measures, compasses and lasers.

Then concrete is poured into the tunnels at various places on the U.S. side — “remediation” that has cost the federal government about $10 million since 2007.

Team members said what they like most about the work is the variety. “Every tunnel is different,” several of them said.

Their work ebbs and flows from year to year. Through the end of August, seven tunnels — three operational and four not yet finished — had been discovered in the fiscal year that started Oct. 1, 2016, according to the Border Patrol. In the eights weeks so far this year: zero.

Over the past 10 years, the number of tunnels discovered has fluctuated between one and nine.

Sometimes the work has a feeling of deja vu. Officials on the Mexican side of the border don’t always have the resources to seal tunnels there.

At least eight times in recent years, the Border Patrol says, newly discovered tunnels turned out to be old ones. The smugglers started in Mexico using what was already there and when they came to the concrete on the U.S. side, they dug around it.

Until they were found again, another round of hide-and-seek that shows no signs of ending.

tunnel rat T shirts

Buen Fin Needs Improvement

Bajadock: El Buen Fin is a discount shopping weekend in Mexico, the third week in November.  Buen Fin signals the beginning of the holiday shopping season and is a preemptive strike against Mexicans crossing the border for USA’s Black Friday shopping the following week.  2017 Buen Fin was Nov 17-20. 

It would be a fun exercise to compare prices for some common holiday shopping items in Baja vs. San Diego.  Hmmm.


The president of the National Chamber of Commerce (CANACO), Mario Escobedo Carignan, declared this morning that anyone who goes to the United States to buy sends the message that local merchants They must improve merchandise, prices and services.

The previous thing commented with respect to the question on the fact that the mayor of Tijuana Juan Manuel Gastélum Buenrostro, was caught buying in San Diego during the campaign “The Good End”, initiative that seeks to encourage the local economy.

“The campaign of ours does not revolve in that you do not buy in the United States, the campaign is to make aware the quantity of products that we offer in Tijuana at competitive prices, which is a challenge that we have to solve”, he said.

This morning, Escobedo Carignan offered a press conference to announce the results of El Buen Fin de 2017, and pointed out that even though the weekend has already ended, they are looking for the “I buy in Tijuana” campaign to prevail to offer competitive prices during the Christmas season.

They were -as he recalled- 200 companies that registered on the “El Buen Fin” platform. The best-selling items were toys, computers, appliances and electronics in general. Sixty percent of the participating companies had already participated in the project since 2014 uninterruptedly.

Rubén Roa Dueñas, president of the Metropolitan Center of Economic and Business Information (CEMDI), explained that in 2017 the local gross domestic product has increased 4.8 percent, and that since the first quarter of 2016 the employed population has increased 8 percent.

On El Buen Fin, the economist said that sales were 7.6 percent higher than last year – the national average ranges between 7 and 10 percent -; CANACO figures show that the sales of the registered establishments improved between 30 and 50 percent this weekend, due to consumers who took advantage of the discounts.

Before the imminent arrival of Black Friday, Escobedo Carignan also pointed out that Mexican nationalism, policies and the speech of President Donald Trump, as well as the efforts generated by local businesses, could cause the flight of consumers to impact less than the year past.

Mayor in “El Buen Fin” … In Chula Vista / Photos: Roberto Córdova-Leyva

Door of Hope at Border

Cabrillo Statue Battle

Bajadock: Can’t believe it took me ten years to finally discover the Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma, San Diego.  It’s only a $10/car fee and the panoramic vistas, paths, tidepools and hiking provide a fun retreat.  Guessing that it is crazy crowded in summer, so my Sunday visit was peaceful with only a handful of people sharing the spaces.

The following Graham Mackintosh article is an easy read about the statue battles.  For a more detailed read(20 pages that I found worthwhile), see John Martin/ 

Bajabound/Graham Mackintosh

Portuguese navigator and conquistador Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo led the first European exploration of the Pacific coast of what is today the United States. He sailed into U.S. history September 28, 1542 when he entered San Diego Bay and claimed it for the Spanish crown.

Mexico also takes great pride in Cabrillo’s achievements. Ensenada celebrates his discovery of Ensenada Bay (Bahia de Todos Santos) on September 17, 1542, 11 days earlier.

Although Cabrillo served the Spanish crown all his life, it is widely accepted that he was born in Portugal.

In 1939, the government of Portugal commissioned Lisbon sculptor Alvaro de Bree to carve a 14 foot tall, heroic 7-ton statue of Cabrillo as a gift to California for the 1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. It arrived too late for inclusion, and the then governor of California gifted the statue to Oakland, with its sizeable Portuguese population.

However, defying the governor’s decree, the statue was requisitioned, some would say “kidnapped” or “stolen” by politicians and businessmen from San Diego forcefully led by city developer and state senator Ed Fletcher. They asserted that the Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma, established in 1913 by President Woodrow Wilson, was where the Statue rightfully belonged.

Cabrillo Statue Ensenada

With the coming of WWII, and restrictions on public access to Point Loma, Cabrillo’s imposing statue was instead installed on the grounds of the Naval Training Center. After the war the statue was finally moved to the Cabrillo National Monument in 1949.

And so for over 65 years a 14,000-pound pale sandstone carving of Cabrillo has been gazing out from his pedestal over San Diego Bay and the Pacific. But unbeknownst to most visitors, it hasn’t always been the same statue. Weathered and worn by visitation, the original gift from Portugal was warehoused and replaced by a sturdier sandstone replica in 1988.

Eventually, other proud city businessmen and politicians made representations for the moving of the statue once again… this time to Ensenada. And largely due to Nicolas Saad, owner of the San Nicolas Hotel, and president of Ensenada’s Cabrillo Festival Committee, the U.S. Department of the Interior granted a 20-year loan of the original statue to the city of Ensenada that today envelops the bay that Cabrillo discovered on September 17, 1542.

Cabrillo Statue Ensenada

The repaired, stabilized, and more weather-resistant statue was unveiled in Ensenada in 2013, where it can now be seen in the beautiful and relaxing gardens of the former Hotel Riviera del Pacifico near the cruise ship dock.

The strikingly white and well-manicured edifice of the Riviera, inspired by Hearst Castle, once a casino and hangout for the Hollywood and sporting elite, now the thriving cultural and event heart of Ensenada, is an easy place to visit. There is abundant free parking all around. The buildings and gardens are a fascinating testimony to Baja California history with numerous plaques, monuments and statutes to its forerunners, shapers and heroes.

Inside, there are tranquil coffee shops and bars, and an excellent historical museum with a fine library, book store, and special exhibits. When I was last there in April, there was an array of photographs of recent rock art finds from Baja California.

A visit to the Riviera is a worthwhile experience anytime. But if you’re in the vicinity of the Riviera, September 17, I suspect there will be quite a celebration around the statue of Cabrillo there in its magnificent new location.


About Graham

Graham is the author of four books on Baja California including Nearer My Dog to Thee which describes a four-month sojourn in the Sierra San Pedro Mártir with two adopted street dogs.

Details on all Graham’s books can be found on his website:

Border Wall Prototypes in San Diego

Ensenada Hillbilly Tijuana Border Report

post trip import success at the pub

by Senior Hillbilly Correspondent, Jed Trailero    

Despite reading comprehension challenges by many, the San Ysidro border was not closed this past Saturday and Sunday, Sept 23 and 24th.  Southbound Tijuana El Chaparral crossing was closed Saturday and Sunday for construction and reopened at midnight Sunday.  Northbound was wide open and easy.

My Toyota, first photo,  is not quite as good as a segunda truck, but for this Monday leather sofa trip from San Diego to Ensenada, it did its job.

Southbound TJ crossing changes: Canopy is gone, k-rail lane blocks gone, lane reduction from 5 to 3, then reopens to 20 lanes at gates just before inspection.  It was a bit disappointing that not much had changed.  Monday light traffic at 5PM was appreciated.

Because of my special load, I was waved to the inspection area.  Cooled my heals for 5 minutes as staffing appeared to be very light this evening.  Received warm greeting, asked me how my Spanish was, put a placard and my windshield and direct me to the Xray machine.  Oooh, I had never been to the Xray inspection at TJ.

Gotta take care the those not specially selected for Xray.  Need yields big time to as you cross multiple line of traffic east to the machine.

The TJ Xray area has 3 steps.  1. You drive your car on the Xray machine ramp, 2. You take your keys, phone, cash, credit cards and bagpack with laptop/camera(that’s what I took) to waiting area that is a plush and comfy set of concrete seats.  3. When Xray is complete, drive your car to the 3 car stall negotiating area to discuss, further inspect, pay aduana for whatever.

Found out from one of the guards that they pull 12 hour shifts.  6am to 6pm was his.

Guy ahead of me was pulling out laundry baskets of toys, stuff from his van.  Looked like he already had been there 30 minutes, might have 30 more.  Inspector  had photocopy of the geezer’s ID. I was out without hassle in total of 15 minutes, with 5 minutes waiting for someone in inspection area, 5 minutes at xray, 5 minutes at negotiating (aduana) area.

So why didn’t go I to the declare/aduana area in the first place?  As a permanent resident, I can take my stuff across the border(with restrictions).  From my experience of following construction trucks with lumber, pickups with refrigerators and vans stuffed with household items, if you boldly show you are bringing back something, you are creating your own VIP declare lane!

Fabulous sunset greeted me as I got to Ensenada, thanks for photo, Irene.

What trip could be complete without a Tramo de Muerte accident?  One car in southbound lane facing north with front smashed and 2 others just ahead of it had their passengers out of vehicles trying to assess damage.  Appeared noone was hurt.

No, my load today was not as big as this one in 2007.  But, it is good to see furniture entering my neighborhood instead of leaving it.

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