Getting back from Baja

Nothing's easier than a short walk across the border. If you're going south.

By Andrew Leonard
Published September 24, 2007 8:18PM (UTC)
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Notes from a bachelor's party in Rosarito, Mexico.

If you take a taxi from the San Diego International Airport to the border on a Friday morning, walking into Mexico requires nothing more than pushing your way through a revolving metal door. No one examines your papers, no one does so much as glance at your bags. No one, in an official capacity, gives a shit. The only people who demonstrate the remotest interest in you are the Tijuana taxi drivers lined up on the other side.

If you desire to return to the United States via the same crossing point on a Sunday afternoon, the line to walk across the border stretches endlessly alongside the highway that leads to the checkpoint and requires several hours to successfully negotiate. Mexicans, Americans, families and tourists, workers of all kinds returning after a weekend of visiting family or chugging tequila; they wait more or less patiently under a moderately hot sun for the opportunity to have their papers inspected and their luggage X-rayed. As they shuffle forward on the sidewalk, drug-sniffing dogs trot from car to car and buses inch along. There is a slight aura of tension -- even with passport in hand and a backpack filled only with the clothes that you brought into the country, you're a little bit nervous. You don't want to give the immigration agent a chance to wield his awesome power, which you suspect he is more than willing to do if he decides you are a suspicious character, or just a smart ass.

On either side of the border, the brown hills that roll down to the Pacific Ocean are identical, as is the ethnic mix of citizens and even the currency. While in Mexico I watched a Tijuana cabbie pay a highway toll on the way to Rosarito using dollar bills instead of pesos, and I had my choice of ATMs that would disgorge either currency. English billboards abound south of the border just as Spanish-language advertisements crowd the north-of-the-border landscape.

The key difference, of course, is the strength of the economy on one side of a border drawn by the victors of a war 159 years ago, and the weakness on the other. You can blame that reality on whatever you like, but watching the masses of people attempting, ever so legally, to make their way north, it was hard to ignore the feeling that the U.S. was really just a giant magnet, relentlessly sucking the peoples of the south into its maw. No legislation, no fence, no army of border patrol agents or horde of vigilantes can negate that force.

Slow it down, yes. Make it annoying for all concerned, sure. Stop it, never.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Globalization How The World Works Immigration Latin America Mexico