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02/07/2012

The tunnels of Gaza and Tijuana

There are two places in the world where an international border is undermined by a series of tunnels used by smugglers.

I’m at one of them now, the border between southern California and the Tijuana area of Mexico.

In the past four years, U.S. authorities have discovered at least 75 tunnels along the length of the 1,950-mile border, many around Tijuana.  

After several days along the border, I am struck by the proximity of buildings on the Mexican side to the warehouses on the U.S. side. The nearest buildings are probably the length of two football fields from each other across the border. Drug smugglers don't have to toil too hard to build their tunnels.

If that is too close, well, part of the reason is thriving legitimate cross-border trade. The United States and Mexico are joined at the hip, as it were. Two-way trade amounts to more than $1 billion a day. Six million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Mexico, or one in about every 24 U.S. workers, according to this recent study. Those warehouses on the U.S. side are a hive of activity.

My visit to Tijuana has brought up memories of a visit I made a decade ago to Rafah and the far southern end of the Gaza Strip. Scores of tunnels have been burrowed across the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, used to bring in food and cigarettes _ and weapons. The day I was in Rafah, I saw piles of rubbles left by Israeli bulldozers that had razed houses to clear open space near the border. If anyone were to build a tunnel from their home, it would have to be a longer tunnel. 

The Israelis were asking no questions. They just cranked up the bulldozers and tore down Palestinian homes. They saw it as a national security imperative.

No one is getting on bulldozers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

And for all the talk of a border fence, a few moments at the San Ysidro border crossing to Tijuana reveal a different aspect of the story. It is the busiest international border crossing in the world. Thirty million vehicles cross there each year. The U.S. and Mexico are busy expanding the northbound lanes from 11 to 22. 

It could hardly come to soon. Waiting times now range from an hour to two and a half hours, and the lines can snake back into Tijuana  more than two miles.

Speaking of waiting times, I can’t figure them out. They seem to have no rhyme nor reason. When I crossed at the Otay Mesa crossing into the U.S. on Sunday, trying to get to a hotel in time for the Super Bowl kickoff, I didn’t make it. I spent three hours in line. But when I came back to Tijuana this afternoon through San Ysidro, there was no line at all. Indeed, no one stopped me to check my passport or anything.

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Kanoa in Mexico

yeah the wait times are as predictable as the weather. It really all depends on how hard they are checking the cars. Sometimes they are waiving them through and sometimes they are all up in your trunk.

Great blog thanks for the post

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Tim

This blog is written by Tim Johnson, the Mexico bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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