Crossing the border at San Ysidro last week, pedestrians, once inside the U.S. border station building, were greeted by mysterious devices at the head of each line. The devices appeared to be robotic in nature, sort of like a line of R2-D2s, draped in black plastic like a Christo art project.
The devices, bolted to the floor, were placed at points just before one entered the booths where agents are stationed. Unable to contain his curiosity, this reporter was compelled to ask an agent about the devices’ sudden arrival. The agent said they were, in essence, do-it-yourself “card swipes” for all official documents. The devices will read all official border-crossing documents, such as Sentri cards, passports, and anything else that has embedded digital information.
The card readers are about four-and-a-half-feet tall and function similar to the San Diego trolley’s “tap and ride” Compass-card-reading devices. The installation of the machines indicates a new stage in the renovation of the border-crossing process. The subject of whether or not human beings will continue to man the individual pedestrian-crossing booths was not asked.