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IV. The Border Crossing Process


Crossing Northbound into the U.S. from Mexico

Commercial vehicles entering the U.S. are subject to two levels of inspection—primary and secondary—comprising a series of stops before the vehicle is cleared to proceed to its destination in Texas and beyond.

Pre-Border Crossing Activities in Mexico

Prior to crossing the international bridge into the U.S., Mexican customs brokers submit and check documentation for all northbound trucks, contact a U.S. broker and transmit commercial and cargo data to U.S. Customs through the Automated Broker Interface.[64] Mexican customs brokers release trucks in batches rather than individually. Other factors contributing to the delayed release of commercial vehicles are the customs brokers’ and banks hours of operation.[65]

Bridge Crossing

The international crossings between the Mexican and U.S. customs facilities often carry mixed traffic non-commercial and commercial vehicles. All non-commercial and commercial vehicles from Mexico proceed through a primary inspection point located on the U.S. side of the bridge. On bridges with both commercial and non-commercial traffic, non-commercial vehicles go through a primary inspection point in the border station on the bridge. Commercial trucks are diverted to a primary inspection area within the border station, but off the bridge.

Commercial vehicles crossing over international bridges dedicated solely for commercial traffic proceed through to the primary inspection point to start the clearing process.

U.S. Crossing Activities

The goal of U.S. crossing activities is to determine what type of shipment is entering the U.S. and whether the shipment meets all regulations with respect to the driver, cargo and vehicle.

U.S. Primary Inspections

Passenger vehicles are briefly inspected at the bridge by U.S. Customs, Immigration and Naturalization Service inspectors.

All trucks entering the U.S. must go through the documentation and cargo, driver and truck inspection facilities. Despite the early release programs, the primary inspection is a document inspection point supplemented at some border crossings by K-9 (drug dogs) inspections for drug interdiction.

U.S. Secondary Inspections

Some trucks are directed to the secondary inspection area as a result of findings or observations from the primary inspection. The documentation may be incomplete or the shipment may need a closer look. The cargo inspections are conducted by U.S. Customs, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, or another federal agencies, depending on the type of cargo.

Additional Inspections

After clearing the primary inspection, commercial trucks may undergo additional inspections in the secondary inspection area including a K-9 inspection for drugs, an x-ray inspection for drugs, and/or a motor vehicle safety inspection. The x-ray inspections are conducted by the Texas National Guard. Motor vehicle safety inspections are conducted in the secondary inspection area by USDOT inspectors or DPS officers.

Exit Inspection

Trucks proceed to the secondary inspection area’s exit for a final review of documentation by a U.S. Customs inspector and release. In Laredo and El Paso, DPS troopers and city police officers also conduct roadside motor vehicle safety inspections of commercial trucks after they have left the U.S. Customs areas.

Released trucks often drive through urban areas to deliver their cargo. However, routes from the newer bridges—which are located in outlying areas—do not take trucks through downtown or urban areas.


Crossing Southbound from the U.S.

Commercial vehicles entering Mexico are subject to two levels of inspection comprising a series of stops before the vehicle is cleared to proceed to its destination in the Mexican border zone or beyond. The first inspection is conducted by the Mexican customs broker in the U.S. and the second inspection by the Mexican Customs Service in Mexico.

Pre-Border Crossing Activities in the U.S.

Prior to arrival at the Mexican carrier’s facility in the Texas border zone, a U.S. customs broker arranges with a Mexican customs broker for payment of duties and delivery of import documents to Mexican Customs. The cargo remains in the border zone until the payment for duties has cleared Mexican banks. Duties must be paid prior to arriving at the border crossing.[66] Toll collection is done by the U.S. owner-operator of the bridge. Generally, tolls are collected manually or through computer-accessed corporate accounts.

Bridge Crossing

The international crossings between the U.S. and Mexican Customs facilities also carry mixed traffic non-commercial and commercial vehicles. All non-commercial and commercial vehicles from the U.S. proceed through a primary inspection point located on the Mexican side of the bridge.

Mexican Crossing Activities

Only loaded trucks and vehicles being imported into Mexico are subjected to the Mexican truck inspection process. Empty trucks and tractors without trailers pass through inspection with all passenger vehicles. A central computer recognizes the document bar code and selects the trucks for primary inspection.

Mexican Primary Inspection

The primary inspection is a freight-only inspection. All trucks undergo the same inspection. Commercial vehicles completing the primary inspection may be selected to undergo a secondary inspection.[68]

Secondary Inspection in Mexico

Some of the trucks completing the primary inspection are selected for the secondary inspection. The secondary inspection repeats the primary inspection, but it is conducted by a private contractor.

Mexican Exit Inspection

Documents are reviewed to ensure that the necessary inspections were conducted before the commercial vehicle is allowed to proceed to its final destination in Mexico.