Wrong move can put off-roaders on other side of the border, law

February 25, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer

The 40-mile-long Imperial Sand Dunes crosses the U.S.-Mexico border, and so do some visitors, whether they know it or not.

Some ride over on purpose and some end up there by mistake, but either way, it's illegal. If someone gets hurt or into trouble on the Mexican side, getting help may not be easy.

The border boundary is dotted about every quarter-mile with foot-high white pillars and larger towers every few miles. Shifting sands cover markers in dune areas.

Agents from the U.S. Border Patrol and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the dunes, are not allowed to cross the border to help someone in Mexico.


"We can notify Mexican officials if a person gets into trouble and have someone go from the Mexican side, but we can't cross the border," Border Patrol Agent Manny Figueroa said.

Most people probably just wander into Mexico without realizing it, Figueroa said.

Some realize and go anyway

"A lot of people go into Mexico to show others how the dunes abruptly stop. It doesn't slowly end, like in the north dunes, it just stops, then there's a dirt road and on the other side of the dirt road is green farmland," American Sand Association President Jerry Seaver said.

"We used to ride there all the time. There's a place called the Mexican Blow Hole. It used to be a big deal in the old days and it's right on the border," Seaver said.

But Seaver said he doesn't cross into Mexico to ride anymore.

In 1990 he was with a group that crossed into Mexico. The Border Patrol said they crossed back into the U.S.

"This was when the Border Patrol decided to have the zero-tolerance policy," Seaver said. "Six people from our group were taken away to (U.S.) Customs and all their stuff was confiscated."

Anything that was confiscated could have been auctioned off unless the fines were paid or bond was posted, he said.

Figueroa said now the rule is someone going into Mexico on an off-road vehicle and re-entering the U.S. is technically supposed to be taken to the port of entry and inspected.

People going into Mexico illegally can be detained and have their property seized by Mexican authorities, he said.

The BLM's Midway campground is about one-fourth of a mile from the border.

Someone could easily ride into Mexico and not know it because the markers are spread out and not always visible, said Tom Sharkey, the bureau's assistant dunes manager.

"Mexico is out of our jurisdiction. We don't go down there," Sharkey said.

The Border Patrol tries to talk to visitors, to let them know not to cross the border, but some wander over, he said.

Filling in the dots

"We try to make sure they're aware of where the border is, but on the big weekends, it's hard. There are too many people," said Border Patrol Agent In Charge Steve Martin.

In the event of a serious mishap, a life or death situation, an agent may cross the border to help out, Figueroa said. There will be repercussions to the agent for crossing the border, but saving someone's life is more important.

Border Patrol Agent Jeff Schneider works in the dunes at the border.

"If we can visually see them, we'd have to help them out," Schneider said. "I'm breaking the law, anyone is breaking the law, to cross the border. But what can you do if someone's life is in danger?"

>>Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or

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