Monday, August 10, 2009

Mexico to Electronically Screen All Southbound Vehicles Crossing the Border

In an effort to stem the southward flow of illegal weapons and money to the drug cartels, Mexico is implementing a new electronic inspection procedure for all vehicles crossing into their country. The screening procedure will weigh, measure and photograph every vehicle crossing the border, checking for abnormalities in each and every vehicle, checking for stolen or other suspect vehicles and noting any suspicious weights or unusual crossing patterns. Inspectors would take a closer look at vehicles that trigger warnings.

The plan has generated protests from business groups and political leaders on both sides of the border, who fear the move will cripple border commerce and tourism. Especially at busy border crossings such as San Ysidro and Otay Mesa in California, a Caltrans study shows that a delay of just seconds per vehicle could spell lengthy backups. The study showed that if the wait time became more than 10 seconds, then the backup on the California side of the border would be 2 1/2 to three miles long.

Customs officials have vowed to limit electronic inspections to five seconds per vehicle, down from the previously stated limit of eight seconds.

The new system, known by the acronym SIAVE, is part of a $1 billion effort to beef up customs facilities across Mexico. The system began operating at the Laredo, Texas/Nuevo Laredo main border crossing in April. During peak times at that crossing, the wait now stretches to 90 minutes. The solution there is to build five more crossing lanes.

The implementation along the entire border will be gradual, but it is expected to begin at some ports such as the Tijuana crossings as early as next month. There is no word as to when the system will be installed at the Lukeville/Sonoyta point of entry.

U.S. authorities, who have also stepped up southbound checks on the U.S. side of many border crossings since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, say their inspections will be coordinated with Mexico to avoid duplication.

As they change to the new system, Mexican customs officials say they are open to the possibility of a southbound fast-track lane for prescreened travelers and other features.

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