12 April 2014

Border Stories Saturday: Coming to the USA

The first time I crossed into the USA from Tijuana, I was fifteen and on a day trip with my brother just for fun. I had no idea that the exhausting line in the hot sun was going to become an integral part of my life. The line can take HOURS to cross, even with new passport cards that put you in the Ready Lane, meaning you basically skip the general line and go straight to the counter. That sounds all well and good except for that there's probably a million or more people with passport cards all jumping into the Ready Lane. I've lost track of the many times I've crossed on foot, waiting in the sun, watching the general line speed by me (I have the worst luck).

Crossing in a car is a new experience to me, because I've always flown to San Diego and I never rent a car or anything. I just catch the bus from the airport to the border. This last time that I went to visit, I needed to go into the US to buy some things. I took my car that had Idaho plates and an Oregon trip permit. After I waited about 40 minutes or so, I finally got up to the checkpoint. Before you enter, you have to hold your passport and/or passport cards for EVERYONE in your car up this scanner thing, and it reads the chip inside. That little chip marks every single time you cross over, so the US Border Patrol knows how many times you have crossed and it gets marked into a computer. Some people think that the government isn't tracking you, but the border patrol agent knew how many times I had crossed, and asked why I had crossed the day before.

When you get up to the checkpoint, you hand the agent your passport cards and they ask you the routine questions:

  • What were you doing in Mexico?
  • Are you bringing anything back from Mexico?
  • Where are you headed to?
Well, this particular time instead of these, the agent (who in all honestly was probably just tired and didn't want to be at work) asked me what the state abbreviation for Idaho was- before he even took my passport card. It's a good thing I paid attention in the 4th grade, because it caught me off guard. He asked me about my son in the back seat and my niece in the front seat, then proceeded to get out of his little box and look in all of my windows with his flashlight and physically started hitting the doors, the fenders, and the hood. I was like, seriously? I have never had any problems with Border Patrol agents, because usually I am a big crying mess and they just roll their eyes at me. This guy made me feel like a complete criminal for entering my own country. 
"You know-" I told him, "if you hit that any harder something is gonna fall off of this thing."
Well he just laughed at me and waved me through, and it made me think- why am I being treated like this? When I walk through, I don't even go through a metal detector. There is more security at an airport than walking across. And when you drive through, it just feels like jail. You wait for them to buzz you through from one section to another.

When you get to the US side, you are straight on I-5 and you have to get up to California freeway speed. It's a bit disorientating to leave the sardine can that is Tijuana roads and drive in California, where there are spaces between buildings and even roads. You're so thankful to be out of the line and onto what you're doing that you don't even reflect on the gross treatment of people you just partook of. When you're in that line, you are no longer human beings, you are numbers- cattle even, being herded through a gate.


  1. I have not been in this line, but in many lines around the world. Getting in and out of countries can be FUN and exhausting and then down right horrid. When I entered into Israel you would have thought I was a criminal, but then as I watched they did it to everyone. They go through every piece of luggage, take it all out and oh if you have a diary they read it..... They do this with everyone. I had a stamp in my passport from Malta a little country in the Mediterranean, they were so concerned because there is a Russian Submarine port there.... Go figure, had no idea!!!!

    1. I have only been to Mexico and Canada, and coming back into the US from Canada seemed like a breeze compared to Mexico. I think I waited maybe 15 minutes in the middle of the day? It was several years ago though. I have heard Israel and a lot of countries in the East get very worked up over little passport stamps like that. Maybe someday I'll get there!

  2. Yep....sounds familiar;) and actually 40 minutes is not bad especially for over there from what I have heard. And you are right coming back in from Canada is way easier...

    1. I don't even think they asked us for ID when I came back from Canada. We were in a big van with the youth group from the church. It was 40 minutes at 8 o'clock at night Layla. If I had gone in the morning it would have been about 2 hours!