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Southbound Screenings Begin in Mexico

Audio

Aired 8/21/09

Mexican customs officials have begun screening cars traveling south across the border. The screening program, which hasn't started in Tijuana yet, is an effort to prevent guns and cash from being smuggled into Mexico.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): The long border wait entering San Diego from Tijuana might soon be duplicated with cars lining up to go in the opposite direction into Tijuana. In September, local Mexican Customs officials will begin screening cars heading south across the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa crossings. Now, JW, after all these years of just being able to drive across the border into Mexico from the San Diego Ports of Entry, why the upcoming inspections?

JW AUGUST (Managing Editor, KGTV 10News): They're trying to cut down on the amount of cash coming – It's all related to the drug wars. It has to do with the guns coming in and the cash coming in to fuel the drug wars.

PENNER: You mean going into Mexico.

AUGUST: Going into Mexico.

PENNER: Right.

AUGUST: They – I mean, there's sacks of this stuff. There's – they don't write a check and send it down there, they've got to physically move it. At least the smaller dealers do. The bigger guys – This is not going to stop the big cartels because they can work wires, they have all kinds of different sophisticated ways to move the money down there. This is going to stop the smaller guys, so that's what was kind of suspicious. The upcoming guys in the drug business, this is going to hurt them because that – they physically have to move stuff like that.

PENNER: Well…

AUGUST: The bigger cartels, they don't do that. They do wire transfers. They have very sophisticated systems to move the money across international borders.

PENNER: How are these inspections going to be done, John, do you know?

JOHN WARREN (Editor/Publisher, San Diego Voice & Viewpoint): Well, they're going to scan the vehicles and they should take…

PENNER: Every single vehicle?

WARREN: Every single vehicle is to be scanned and they should take between eight and ten seconds. And it's been estimated that if it takes as long as ten seconds, it will create a two and a half mile backup Interstate 805 and 5. They need to get it down to about six seconds. There's opposition from Mexican business interests that are already down some 25% in the past three years in terms of people crossing the border. But the impetus for this was driven home about three months ago when a picture from Mexico City, where they had a warehouse that the federales have, the Mexican police, a three-story warehouse with tens of thousands of weapons, automatic, AKAs, the whole thing, and 90% of the weapons that were in that warehouse came from the United States. So this idea is we must start checking what's going into the country, weapons, cash, whatever, and it's going to have a detrimental impact on the Mexican government because they only have a couple of lanes where we have 24 lanes coming out.

AUGUST: Seven – seven…

PENNER: That's all they're going to have? Two lanes?

AUGUST: No, there's seven, seven lanes.

WARREN: They have seven. We have 24 coming out. They need more lanes if they're going to do it.

AUGUST: Yeah, exactly.

WARREN: If people have to wait in line in addition to the passport now being a requirement, the traffic is going to be cut to a low. 38,000 cars a day cross going south and 45,000 on Friday. And you start adding the seconds to that…

AUGUST: Yeah, wow.

WARREN: …you're talking about people waiting in Chula Vista at McDonald's to get to the border.

PENNER: Okay, well, let me ask our listeners about that. If you've been thinking about going down to Tijuana, Rosarito Beach or any place in Baja, are you going to have second thoughts when those inspection stations open? And they're scheduled to be opened – I think they're going to do a pilot program just starting in a few weeks.

AUGUST: They already did it in Laredo. It's already started in the Texas border area.

PENNER: In the Texas – Oh, yeah, the Texas border, definitely.

AUGUST: Yeah, I saw a little of it. It looked pretty hairy.

PENNER: Our number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. What did you say just before I gave the number. It looked pretty what?

AUGUST: Hairy.

PENNER: So it didn't look as though it was a smooth operation in Laredo?

AUGUST: No, I – At least from the video we saw. But you know how those TV guys are. They always show you the bad stuff.

PENNER: Yes, we've heard about that.

HIEU TRAN PHAN (Specialists Editor, San Diego Union-Tribune): Well, Gloria, one of the things is that…

PENNER: Yes, Hieu.

PHAN: …this is a sensitive issue between the United States and Mexico. We have tracks that – and, you know, the lines, the – coming up north can be quite a wait. And so I think the U.S. Immigration officials are loathe to try to intervene and say we should try to build more lanes, we should try to quicken the process so it becomes five or six seconds, which is the current effort by the Mexican government right now. That's why they've delayed it until September or so in order to try to figure out some ways to speed this up. But it's very hard to tell the Mexican government, we're doing this but you can't do it.

AUGUST: That's right.

PHAN: The other part two is, this is, I think, a classic example of two legitimate priorities. One is to cut down on drug crime and drug money and laundering and so forth but the other thing is the economic reality of the tourism industry that has been so hard hit not only by the recession but by greater national security restrictions, by swine flu, and I think if swine flu comes back in the fall at all, we're going to see another decimation of the tourism industry there. I think the merchants there are just thinking what will come next? What plague will hit us next?

PENNER: And I'm just wondering if tourism and commerce decline even more, John, will that drive more Mexicans into the United States to look for work?

WARREN: I don't think so because we – First of all, we have tightened up the border situation significantly from here all 1700 miles has been strengthened. So I don't see more people necessarily trying to come. The statistics show that the numbers are down in terms of people trying to come because of the recession and the lack of available jobs here. So the people who are affected, in terms of business owners, are not the ones that would be backing up across the border. They will still be suffering and laying off people.

PENNER: All right, I want – I just want to hear from our listeners, JW, then I'll go back to you. Ricardo in Linda Vista wants to add his voice to the discussion. Ricardo, you're on with the editors.

RICARDO (Caller, Linda Vista): Hi. Thank you for taking my call.

PENNER: Yes.

RICARDO: Well, I wanted to make the comment that I – my family and I, we used to go to TJ quite often, usually on the weekends to buy stuff and – and, you know, with just – and, you know, with all the violence and stuff going on, we stopped doing that pretty much altogether, and then hearing that, you know, there's going to be added security measures trying to cross the border into TJ. But I think in the end, it's well worth it because I was reading that – Well, I was actually reading a paper in Mexico and they were talking about 90% of the weaponry that's coming into Mexico that's being used by these drug cartels that have increased – that have shot up the violence, that's all coming from the U.S. so I think that these added security measures are going to do a lot to sort of curtail that so…

PENNER: Okay, well, before we go back to the editors, to their comments, I want to hear from Kay in Escondido. And thank you, Ricardo, for what you had to say. Kay, you're on with the editors. Hi, Kay. Are you there? Nope? Okay. Okay. By the way, I just want to remind you, if you would like to continue this conversation, you can – or any conversation that we have on Editors Roundtable, you can post your comments online at our website. You just go to Editors Roundtable page on KPBS.org. All right, JW, you wanted to respond to Ricardo.

AUGUST: Now, I'm not a member of the American Rifle Association but the – this stuff about the guns is quite a bit off. First off, most of the guns – not 90% of the guns are from the U.S. They also have Chinese weapons, they have weapons coming in from all over the world. Secondly, a lot of these guns were guns given to the Mexican military from the U.S. government and the military personnel desert. They lose 15,000 people a year. That's the way a lot of the weaponry is getting out on the streets. So it's not some guy in a shop in San Ysidro selling guns that's heading south. It doesn't work like that. That's an easy thing for people to grasp but the reality is much more complicated than that.

PENNER: So you're saying that perhaps we don't need to have those border…

AUGUST: Oh, no, I agree. I agree. They need them there. They need to stop them. They've got to stop those guns from going south. But you'd understand – what are the sources of the guns. And that's not going to stop them from coming in because the Chinese – There's a lot of people that manufacture arms, small arms and more sophisticated arms, and they're all selling into Mexico. There's money to be made there.

PENNER: John.

WARREN: Many of the arms sold in America are not made in America so we know that. But the point that they made in Mexico is – and they're the ones who confiscated the weapons and they tracked where the weapons came from. They said the weapons came, 90% from the U.S., and not that they were made in the U.S. but that they came from here. And that's the thing that creates the fear of – the whole fear factor here.

PENNER: Okay, so we have established that there is concern about it from a financial point of view, whether tourism and commerce will further decrease along the border and what that will do. Is there an option, Hieu?

PHAN: Well, I think some people have talked about, besides the construction aspect, building more lanes. That's going to take a good number of years…

WARREN: Umm-hmm.

PHAN: …for that to happen. But they – I think they've also talked about doing laser tracks instead of doing the weigh system and the scan system so it could be faster, perhaps providing more personnel to do it and so forth. There's really no perfect, you know, solution right now but I would say that we need to take this in the broader context which is, I think, since President Obama came into office he's been working along with Hillary Clinton and the others in the U.S. – in the presidential administration with Mexico to acknowledge that the source of the problem lies with us. There is a huge demand for narcotics in this country and that's what's fueling problems like this.

AUGUST: Yeah.

PENNER: So are U.S. Customs officials doing their own checks of cars going into Mexico? Or is this totally up to Mexico? John?

WARREN: Well, you know, I haven't heard discussion in terms of us checking but, yes, we do have checkpoints out Highway 94. There's a checkpoint now in Dulzura, and the traffic is now being backed up coming west at least a hour where at first people would just drive through. So at our various points, yes. The answer is yes, we are checking and we are looking and it's going to be a growing issue.

PENNER: Okay, well, your final comments on this, JW?

AUGUST: Well, I'm concerned long term on like political unrest because Mexico has a huge underground economy and these sort of things hurt that underground economy. You know, people go down there to spend cash to eat or hire people or have their car done, that money's drying up. And that's a big part of their economy, that's going to cause…

PENNER: So political – political…

AUGUST: Political unrest.

PENNER: In Mexico.

AUGUST: Yeah, absolutely. I'm not seeing any revolutionists coming but I'm just simply saying people are not going to be happy.

PENNER: And how will that affect this country?

AUGUST: Well, when you have a country south – on our border having political turmoil, it's reason to be concerned because all kinds of things – the scenarios could be multiple.

PENNER: Okay, well, gentlemen, I want to thank you very much for your participation this morning. I want to thank JW August of KGTV 10News, John Warren from the Voice – San Diego Voice & Viewpoint, and Hieu Phan Thon (sic) – I want to get your name straight this time, Hieu. Hieu Than Phan (sic), right?

PHAN: It's been pleasure.

PENNER: Oh, well, it's been a delight to have you. Thank you to our listeners and our callers. Remember KPBS.org is our website, Editors Roundtable. This has been the Editors Roundtable. I'm Gloria Penner.

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