Border crossing in a new era

January 03, 2002|By ARTURO BOJ"RQUEZ, Adelante
  • An unidentified bicyclist (bottom left) rides near the line of cars going into Mexicali at the downtown port recently. Bike commuters say it is much easier getting into the U.S. when on bikes because many U.S. Customs inspectors do visual checks of the vehicles. ARTURO BOJORQUEZ PHOTO

Calexico — Some people are deciding to leave their cars on the other side of the border and are starting a whole new era of border crossing.

In a method to not only get to work faster but to get in some exercise, some cross-border commuters and shoppers are using bicycles as border-crossing vehicles.

After the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, drivers had to wait up to two hours to cross the border in the Calexico area.

Pedestrians also were inspected more closely and subjected to long waits in line.

Pedestrians were seen desperately waiting for the lines to move forward to Hotel del Norte, two blocks from the border.

Even Americans had to suffer the consequences of the Sept. 11 attacks.

One day a white-collar American tried to cut in line close to the U.S. border inspection building, but he was sent back by Customs inspectors three blocks to the start of the line.


The use of bicycles to avoid long lines in the vehicular and pedestrian border lanes seems to be becoming more popular every day.

One cross-border bicyclist is Manuel Castellanos, who before the Sept. 11 attacks drove his car into the United States to work at a car dealership.

After Sept. 11 he regularly was sent to secondary inspection.

"Where do you live?" "Why are you coming to the U.S.?" "Where do you work?" "Where do you live?" "Can you open the trunk?" were the common questions he had to answer before entering this country.

A month ago, though, he decided to go with a new vehicle, as have others, as bicycling started to become a more common way to get into and around to the U.S for other Mexicali commuters.

These riders also found a faster way to get to their jobs without having to wake up two hours earlier than they did before the attacks.

After a five-minute wait at the border, they could head to their jobs in downtown Calexico and leave the bicycles tied to the fence on First Street. Soon, though, police officers issued warnings.

"They told us that it was federal property," says Castellanos.

So a city park on First Street became home to the two-wheeled non-motorized vehicles while their owners worked.

Border-crossing became easier for bicyclists, too, as Customs inspectors inspect by eye such crossers, check the "mica," or green card, and let them pass.

"I only bring my car's license plate," said Castellanos of what he has with him when he crosses the border.

Car theft is one of the most common crimes in Mexicali, so Castellanos takes off his license plate to make it more difficult for thieves to sell his car.

His car sometimes is parked in El Tecolote, a three-store private parking lot one block from the border. Other times, though, his motor vehicle remains on the streets close to Mexicali's cantinas.

According to Richard González of the U.S. consulate in Tijuana, the use of bicycles to cross the border has become more popular in the last three months.

He said another advantage is riders from Tijuana can leave their bicycles in public areas and travel to their jobs on the trolley or bus.

Bicycling is not the only easy way to travel into the United States.

Others use electric scooters to get to work while some wait near the vehicular lines and ask for rides.

Jim Michie, a U.S. Customs Service spokesman, said there are no figures nor estimates on how many people on bicycles are crossing the border every day, but he said "they could be thousands."

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