The opening of more car lanes at the end of September greatly improved the San Ysidro border-crossing experience…for those who drive. My coworker who used to cross on foot now drives to work with a smile.
"Solo había dos carros enfrente de mi”; he gloats that driving across took him less than five minutes because only two cars were ahead of him.
For the month of October, the pedestrian line calmed down, with wait times at well under an hour (except on weekends). But with the holiday season here, retail stores hired part-time workers from Tijuana and thousands of people from central Mexico have flocked to the border to do their shopping, making the pedestrian wait a nightmare.
I wake up at 6 a.m. every day for my 10 a.m. shift in Chula Vista. The first thing I do is check the border-wait app to read the report. It is rarely accurate, so I check other sources and decide whether or not I have extra snoozing time. I sigh with relief at the times the line looks short. But if it’s all the way to the back, there’s little organization, which confuses newcomers who add to the chaos. The standard lane and Ready Lane are virtually the same, only distinguishable when people in wheelchairs part the sea of people in two.
There are some minor improvements inside the Customs and Border Protection building. New video monitors indicate which line you should be standing in; other monitors blare warnings of Ebola and other diseases. The passport-card readers are practically useless because people don't understand how to use them; most of the time they are covered with black plastic bags.
A Tijuana policeman attempts to maintain order
Small improvements to the pedestrian line have come from Mexico's side. Cops now patrol to make sure no one cuts; they send cutters to the back and arrest those who cause problems.
Currently, the flow of people coming from the U.S. intersects with those waiting in line; it used to be a perfect opportunity for cutters, but two cops now direct traffic at this intersection. Plastic orange traffic pylons linked with rope make lanes for the people who walk with the same enthusiasm as cattle. But where the rope ends, the line is chaos.
This week, the pilot program that charged foreigners $23.50 for entering Mexico for more than seven days was suspended after just a couple weeks of implementation. Tijuana's mayor, Jorge Astiazaran, condemned the entry fee, telling newspapers, "It's an inhibitor, and we will not allow it. We will talk to the authorities we have to and let them know what we want. The border is more fluid now and this is like hitting the brakes."