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It's Mexico's turn to boost border enforcement -- with a new pedestrian crossing into Tijuana

It's Mexico's turn to boost border enforcement -- with a new pedestrian crossing into Tijuana
The $6.9-million facility is part of a massive binational reconfiguration of the congested border between San Ysidro, Calif., and Tijuana, Mexico. (Alejandro Tamayo / San Diego Union-Tribune)

A new entrance to Mexico for pedestrians has opened here — a modern, three-story facility that authorities say will transform the experience of entering Mexico for some 22,000 southbound border crossers each day.

The $6.9-million structure, Puerta Este Mexico-San Ysidro, represents a new way of doing business at the border for Mexico, as its federal government seeks control of who comes into the country. With the new facilities, Mexican immigration officials are preparing to step up enforcement of a rule stipulating that foreigners present passports when entering Mexico and that those on business or who plan to stay for more than a week pay a 330-peso fee, about $19.

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The new facility answers a need to "offer adequate, modern, comfortable, efficient, rapid and friendly service," said Luis Videgaray, Mexico's secretary of finance and public credit, one of a number of high-ranking Mexican and U.S. officials who attended the inauguration ceremony last week.

Authorities said the building would be a model that could be replicated at other crossings as Mexico upgrades its border infrastructure. For the first time, foreigners and Mexican nationals will be processed in separate lines.

"The way that people enter Mexico has been growing very disorganized, and now we are making it organized — that's the big difference," said Carlos de la Fuente, general director of construction and appraisals for Indaabin, the Mexican agency in charge of building federal facilities.

Rodulfo Figueroa, who heads Mexico's National Migration Institute in Baja California, has been working to assuage fears that the new measures could create lines of pedestrians waiting to enter Tijuana. While all foreign border crossers are required to show their passports and are subject to filling out an entry form, the rule will not be uniformly enforced when the port gets busy, Figueroa said.

"I can tell you that the driver here is to comply with what Mexican law says, and do it in a seamless way, to have security, efficiency and order," Figueroa said.

The pedestrian crossing is part of a massive binational reconfiguration of the congested U.S.-Mexico border at San Ysidro, described by U.S. and Mexican officials as the world's busiest land border crossing. The United States has invested $741 million to expand the San Ysidro Port of Entry, a multiphase project that is expected to conclude in 2019. In September 2012, Mexico opened its new $28-million vehicle entrance, El Chaparral.

The opening of the pedestrian entrance gives rise to a series of other public and private projects planned on the Tijuana side. They include links to a future rapid-transit system, a public park, a medical plaza, and an enclosed pedestrian bridge above the vehicle lanes.

And other changes have been taking place nearby. In December, the developers of a privately operated cross-border pedestrian bridge leading from Otay Mesa, east of San Ysidro, to Tijuana's A.L. Rodríguez International Airport expect to begin operations. Plans are also moving forward for the State Route 11/Otay Mesa East Port of Entry, which would be the first tolled vehicle crossing between California and Mexico, serving commercial and passenger traffic.

Twitter: @sandradibble

Sandra Dibble writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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