Mexico to tighten border crossings

TIJUANA, Mexico — Driving into Mexico has been a largely hassle-free experience for decades: There were few customs inspectors, even fewer gates and, for most border crossers, no questions asked.

That's about to change.

The Mexican government is modernizing its ports of entry along the border, including its biggest crossing in Tijuana. The new infrastructure — which includes gates, cameras and vehicle scales — is meant to help curtail the flow of drug money and weapons to Mexican organized crime groups.

But bolstered security means more border-crossing logjams, and business and trade groups fear that the new measures will deal another blow to a fragile regional economy.

The System of Supervision and Vehicular Control is still in the testing phase ahead of its scheduled January rollout, but traffic jams already occur at peak crossing times in late afternoon. Cross-border trips from San Diego that once took five minutes can take an hour or more.

Baja California Gov. Jose Guadalupe Osuna Millan, fearing more damage to the collapsing tourism industry if increased wait times discourage Southern Californians from venturing south, has lobbied federal authorities to scale back the inspection process.

But President Felipe Calderon, under pressure to show progress in his nearly three-year offensive against drug cartels, said the measures are a necessary sacrifice.

Mexico's new process doesn't approach the sophistication and strictness of U.S. inspections levels but still represents a dramatic change.