On Tuesday morning, drivers in Tijuana heading to the United States yelled, jeered and gave thumbs-down gestures as they passed a newly installed speed bump and checkpoint staffed by Mexican immigration officials.
They were reacting to the traffic chaos caused by the checkpoint — just yards from the San Ysidro Port of Entry — on its first day of operation.
Drivers in the SENTRI, or trusted-traveler lane, who normally zip by other border crossers reported waits close to two hours.
“It doesn’t work,” yelled one woman in a Black Nissan in Spanish as she passed the checkpoint. “There’s too much traffic.”
Mexican officials last week said the new checkpoint was a way for Mexican immigration officials to check some northbound travelers for the appropriate crossing documents before they reach the official port of entry staffed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. For more than a year, CBP officers have been doing that task, making initial document checks before drivers approach the port of entry booths as a way to prevent asylum seekers from crossing onto U.S. soil in cars.
Mexican officials said they hope by staffing the initial document inspection point themselves, it will free up CBP officers to open more car lane booths and reduce wait times overall for authorized travelers. However, CBP has not made any public affirmation of such an agreement.
On Tuesday, about 10 U.S. CBP officers continued to do their own initial checks, standing beneath white tents at the border line.
“We can say that this is a Government of Mexico program,” CBP told the Union-Tribune of the new Mexican checkpoint. “We have no further comment on this program.”
Meanwhile, at least 15 Mexican officials, among them officers from Mexico’s immigration agency, the National Guard, Tijuana police and Baja state police, stood by the new checkpoint, some sipping coffee.
An officer with Tijuana police standing by the SENTRI lane said around 10 a.m. that the Mexican officials hadn’t stopped any cars to check documents.
He added that he thought the slowdown was because of leftover traffic from the holiday weekend.
“People think it’s us, but it’s not us,” he said.
Drivers honked angrily as they wound their way from where the SENTRI line started near Lázaro Cárdenas high school. Police closed off a traffic circle to organize the line, but shortly after 9 a.m., frustrated drivers pushed through the police tape.
As they waited in the line, workers called in late, and mothers voiced their frustration about their children arriving tardy for school.
After one angry mother in an SUV paused to talk with reporters, the police officer emphasized that it wasn’t his fault.
“You should have told her, ma’am, go live in the United States,” he joked.