Searching for contraband at the Tijuana border

This weekend, after crossing through the Otay Mesa port of entry, U.S. Customs officers directed me to join a line of other hand-picked cars. We were told to turn off our motors and leave the keys inside while trained dogs were brought out to sniff around and a mobile x-ray machine scanned the cars

In this endless cat-and-mouse chase, sometimes surprise tactics work and sometimes they don’t. And occasionally innocent people get caught up in the system’s imperfections.

Just ask a Mexican painter printer who was awarded more than half a million dollars in a case against the U.S. government, according to a story in The San Diego Union-Tribune. That episode started when he bought a previously confiscated car – with drugs still inside – from a government auction north of the border. When the drugs were eventually found at a checkpoint in Mexico, Rivera was arrested and spent a year in a Mexican prison, according to the article.

Several other similar Kafkaesque cases emerged between 1999 and 2003 along this part of the border. Attorneys who represented Rivera told the Union-Tribune they believe the U.S. government has since improved its inspections of seized vehicles.

In my own case this weekend, there was a moment when the Customs dog seemed to have a leaning towards one of the vehicles at the front. But after a few roundabouts he or she moved on and everyone who came with their cars left with their cars.

Picture of cars waiting to cross into the United States from the Otay Mesa border.


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