Making a run for the Border?
March 4, 2008 6:24 AM   Subscribe

How does the Mexican Border work?

So... I was talking with a band last night who were on tour from Washington, and they were all like, "Dude, we crossed the Mexican Border for a minute out by the dunes on I-8, heading east from San Diego to Phoenix."

Are they right? Did they really cross into Mexico?

What I'm asking is this: is that truck fence that you see off I-8 really the Border? If a person jumps from one side to another, are they truly leaving the United States, or does the real border lie some distance from the highway?

This is what I'm talking about... (Although that's a different band / guy, for whatever it's worth.)
posted by ph00dz to Law & Government (12 answers total)
It looks like at 32deg. 42min. 14sec. N and 114 deg. 56 min. 22 sec. W the interstate is about .6 mile from the border, with a dirt road or fence a little in from the actual border, so they were definitely within easy eyeshot of the border.
posted by TedW at 6:49 AM on March 4, 2008

You never cross the border to mexico without going through regulations. The border crossings are quite large in San Diego. In fact, I believe the westernmost border crossing (in san diego) is the largest border crossing in the United States.

The I8 never crosses the border, but does get rather close a few times. Your friends may be confusing the many border patrol checkpoints that exist on the 8 with a border. These checkpoints are on US soil. All cars usually have to stop or slow down as you go through these checkpoints, and they occasionally send you to secondary to get your car inspected. This is because many illegal border crossings happen out in the desert. The checkpoints are there to check to make sure you have'nt picked up any of the border jumpers.
posted by ShootTheMoon at 7:21 AM on March 4, 2008

Did the band get out of the van and walk to the border, or did they think that I-8 crosses into Mexico? Boder Patrol recently opened a new checkpoint on I-8 east of San Diego. Maybe they went through that.

Or maybe they can time travel and were on the NAFTA Superhighway?
posted by billtron at 7:35 AM on March 4, 2008

At first that's what I thought they were talking about STM, those checkpoints. I guess they stopped the van, got out, and ran around in the desert -- probably around the area that TedW noted... That's the American Canal going through there, right?
posted by ph00dz at 7:41 AM on March 4, 2008

Yeah, I just went out to the desert over the weekend, and there's a number of border checkpoints out there that weren't there when I was a kid, but at no point does the 8 actually cross into Mexican territory. The checkpoints are just a chance for the Border Patrol to stop cars to see if anyone is smuggling anything in beyond the actual checkpoints at the border. The checkpoint in Camp Pendleton, between San Diego and Orange County, has been operating forever as a secondary spot check.

The newer checkpoints that I saw were located in the mountains just east of highway S-1. The westbound checkpoint has been up for a few years and has been developed enough to look permanent, but the eastbound one, located a little further east, is still just an RV parked by the side of the road with some generator lights and cones and a couple agents waving people through. Oddly enough, there's also a checkpoint at the San Diego/Imperial County line on highway S-2 (also of the RV/cones variety), which is basically smack in the middle of nowhere. The eastbound I-8 and S-2 checkpoints were totally new to me, and have appeared within the last couple years.

The reason for all this is that since the construction of the border fence and intesification of patrols on the western part of the border near the San Diego metropolitan area, the traffic across the border has steadily moved eastward, so that illegal aliens are now coming across through the more rugged mountains and deserts, hoping to elude border patrol out there. There have been numerous stories of groups of aliens that were ill prepared for the journey, and either died of heatstroke in the desert or exposure in the mountains. The border patrol has responded, and now quite a few of the vehicles you see on the roads east of San Diego bear the distinctive green stripe of the border patrol.
posted by LionIndex at 8:15 AM on March 4, 2008

You never cross the border to mexico without going through regulations.

Uh, unless you walk across where there is just a barbed wire fence in the desert. I've done that, for a lark, from both the Mexican and the US sides. I don't know if the fence I hopped over was really the border, but it had signs on it saying so, so it was pretty close at least.

Most of the border is completely open and unfenced (except for whatever sensors and spy drones and so on they are using), and roads come up next to the border from both sides. So that kind of thing is easy to do.
posted by Forktine at 8:21 AM on March 4, 2008

I've wondered about this also.

I was on a Greyhound bus from LA heading east. In the middle of the night, I was woken up by border guard who was asking each person on the bus to say the name of the city they were born in (similar to the procedures at the Tijuana border before 9/11). After he left, people on the bus explained to me that the road we were on had dipped into Mexico and we were re-entering the United States.
posted by the jam at 10:25 AM on March 4, 2008

I've driven that stretch of road several times in the last year. You are close to Mexico, but you certainly don't pass into Mexico if you stay on the 8.
posted by 26.2 at 12:06 PM on March 4, 2008

A few years ago I followed the border (the fence) to the Pacific where it seemed to go underwater just a few feet out. I suppose you could swim across.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 1:42 PM on March 4, 2008

Are they right? Did they really cross into Mexico?

Not if they were just driving along the freeway. There are no interstate freeways that cross into Mexico, that's why they aren't called international freeways. There are checkpoints run by border patrol all over the place, and that's what's referenced in the link you gave. Now, if they stopped the car on the side of the road, jumped out, and ran south until they got to a fence, they might have been in Mexico -- but who knows.
posted by yohko at 8:50 PM on March 4, 2008

What might make this clearer is to remember that the border is both a line and a zone. The actual line-in-the-sand border, often marked by just a barbed wire cow fence, does not have freeways zig-zagging across it. However, the border zone -- the twenty or so miles north and south of the border -- has a special set of laws and rules unique to that zone, allowing a much more fluid back-and-forth than the supposed clarity of the border line would suggest. So you need a permit to drive your car deeper into Mexico, but not if you will be staying in the border zone; conversely, many people cross every day into the US with visas that allow travel within the border zone but not north of it. The freeway is (often) inside that border zone, and that is the area where the Border Patrol sets up its checkpoints.
posted by Forktine at 4:12 AM on March 5, 2008

Gotcha... so, maybe they did cross into Mexico, maybe not, but they'd already crossed into the US Border Zone, which is why there's so much crazy surveillance around and whatnot out there.
posted by ph00dz at 5:40 AM on March 5, 2008

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