Motorists waited two hours or more Saturday to cross the border here as U.S. Customs and Immigration officers, for the second day, searched every car entering the United States looking for clues to the whereabouts of a kidnaped agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Baffled motorists, sitting in cars with idling engines, blew their horns in frustration as they sat in long lines that would not move. The lines of cars weaved and stretched three miles into downtown Tijuana, and most drivers had no clue as to what was causing the delay. Although the two-hour wait was bad enough, it was an improvement from early Saturday when the wait was 7 1/2 hours, said Larry Adkins, acting chief inspector of Customs at San Ysidro.
After the early morning traffic jam, American border officers decided to ease the congestion by thoroughly checking only cars belonging to non-U.S. citizens, Adkins said. He said the decision was made at 9 a.m. to only do spot checks of cars carrying Americans because "the people we're looking for are not U.S. citizens," meaning the suspected kidnapers.
Mike Fleming, a Customs spokesman in Southern California, said that the heads of the Customs Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington had decided last week to make at least a cursory check of every car entering the United States from Mexico during the Presidents' Day weekend. U.S. officials said the massive search for the missing agent is unprecedented and will affect every crossing and airport on or near the U.S-Mexico border.
Fleming said the objective is to look for clues relating to the Feb. 7 kidnaping of DEA Agent Enrique S. Camarena. Camarena, a drug agent for 11 years, was abducted at gunpoint in Guadalajara, Mexico, by suspected drug traffickers. It was the first known kidnaping of a DEA agent in Mexico.
"We want to send a message to drug smugglers that the U.S. government is not going to crumble under their threats. If they want to play hardball, federal law enforcement officials will play, too," Fleming said.
U.S. officials in Southern California and Washington denied reports that the border action is designed to put pressure on the Mexicans to intensify their search for the missing Camarena.
Some motorists were aware of the search for the missing agent, but that did not lessen the frustration of sitting in a stationary vehicle for hours.
"I think it's foolishness. Why are they messing with a million people while they look for one person?" said a Colorado man who did not want to be identified.
Looking for Clues
By Saturday afternoon, DEA and Customs officials said they had not turned up any clues that would bring them closer to knowing Camarena's whereabouts.
Mexican customs officials in Tijuana said they were not notified in advance of the joint DEA-Customs operation.
"Officially, we were not told anything," said Gonzalo Anell, a Mexican customs official. "But we've heard the stories about the missing agent."
The operation includes border crossings from California to Texas, but nowhere were the traffic jams as horrendous as in San Ysidro, the world's busiest port-of-entry. On an average day, about 30,000 cars carrying approximately 98,000 people cross the border there.