Following Mexico’s checkpoint installation, extra layer of U.S. border officials disappears from SENTRI line

After more than a year of posting officers on the physical border line in addition to the ones working the booths at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, Customs and Border Protection has removed some of the extra layer of inspection — but only from the trusted-traveler car lanes.

The move comes one week after the Mexican government installed its own inspection point in the SENTRI lanes as a pilot program about 100 yards from where a yellow line on the ground denotes the end of one country and the beginning of another. Mexican officials had said they hoped the move would lead CBP to move officers from its two-layer inspection setup to open more booths for faster processing. CBP never publicly acknowledged any negotiation that had taken place.

But, beginning on Tuesday, travelers noted that the configuration at the border had changed, and the concrete dividers that used to bottleneck cars to the initial CBP checkpoint had moved.

The sudden change left some wondering if Mexico’s plan — which enraged drivers on its first day after the normally speedy SENTRI lane slowed to nearly two hour waits — had actually worked.

So far, the change has only been observed in the SENTRI lanes, though Mexican officials have set up checkpoints in both those and the Ready Lanes. CBP officers remained stationed at the border line checkpoints in both the Ready Lanes and general lanes as of Wednesday.

It’s still not clear if the change in the SENTRI lanes is related to Mexico’s pilot program, or if it’s an independent move in preparation for increased travel around Thanksgiving.

“CBP at San Ysidro is committed to facilitating legitimate travel safely, securely, and efficiently through the port of entry and is testing different lane configurations in attempts to maximize efficiency,” the agency said through an unnamed spokesperson.

CBP initially installed the second layer of officers at the border line after asylum seekers, facing border policies that blocked them from requesting protection on foot at the ports of entry, resorted to driving onto U.S. soil to access the legal screening system that would determine if they qualify as refugees. Asylum advocates have long criticized CBP stationing its officers at the border line — in both the pedestrian and vehicle crossings — as a means of avoiding the United States’ legal obligation to process asylum requests.

Recently, Tijuana Mayor Montserrat Caballero, as well as the U.S. Consul General in Tijuana, Thomas Reott, have said that the objective of the pilot program was to enable CBP to move its officers.

“In the first days, CBP is reviewing to ensure that it’s working. Once they are sure … they will take their agents from the yellow line to open more booths,” Reott told reporters last Wednesday.

The Consul General of Mexico in San Diego, Carlos González Gutiérrez, celebrated the program results after the United States removed its border line checkpoint.

“It’s premature to jump to conclusions,” he said in a statement. “However, the checkpoint to accelerate traffic on the Mexican side worked. And it shows the fact that CBP is disposed to redistribute some of its officers.”

Border groups have asked for years that officials take measures to speed up border crossing traffic between Tijuana and San Diego.

Despite the first day’s hiccups, traffic in the SENTRI lanes soon returned to normal following installation of the Mexican inspection point. On Wednesday of this week around 10 a.m., drivers in the SENTRI lane reported a wait of about 30 minutes. The line reached the General Hospital of Tijuana, but drivers noted that it moved faster than usual. There were 30 lanes open out of 34 at the time at the port of entry for cars to reach inspection booths.

CBP has long pointed to limited resources as part of the reason that it can’t process a higher volume of travelers.

In April 2020, because of the pandemic, CBP closed PedWest, a pedestrian crossing whose northern end is near the Las Americas outlet mall. CBP hasn’t been able to reopen the crossing and has blamed staffing shortages.

The checkpoints on the Mexican side in both the SENTRI and Ready Lanes are placed by newly installed speed bumps and are staffed by Mexico’s immigration agency and National Guard as well as state and city police.

The pilot program will last until Jan. 15.

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