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    U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials inspect a vehicle crossing into Mexico at Falfurrias, Texas (Getty Images).

    by: Craig Howie | AOL Autos
     

    You might think there are enough weapons, drugs and dollar bills in the United States, but you'd be surprised by what drivers attempt to take back and forth between the US and its neighboring countries, according to border officials in the US, Canada and Mexico.

    And though border crossings are likely more mundane for the average motorist, what can we learn from the border patrol that would help us make for a better (and faster) trip? And how do professional smugglers do it? We take a look.  

    Drug cartels and seizures

    Chief Ruben Jauregui, the chief customs border protections officer at El Paso field office for Customs and Border Protection (CPB), says his team this week alone seized more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana coming into the U.S. from the Mexican border city of Juarez, much of it hidden in secret compartments around non-descript-looking vehicles.

    In one example, he says a car contained more than 300 lbs of cannabis hidden under the floor of the vehicle.

    Creative Hiding Places

    Smugglers Are Trying To Hide Contraband In the Following Places (But Typically Fail Trying)
    Table legs
    Children's toys
    Holiday candles
    Commercial equipment
    Spools of wire and cable
    Surfboards and skateboards
    Car parts

     

    "[Smugglers use] just about any crevice of the vehicle you can think of," Jauregui said. This includes areas you'd never expect, including the engine bay, tires or even in the front or rear differential. Once a vehicle has been deemed suspect, a dog may be employed to sniff out drugs or currency and agents use density probes to determine the presence of hidden compartments. Once agents have pulled out the seats, floor and gotten into an engine or exhaust system, a vehicle can resemble an empty shell.

    No warrants are required for CPB before they tear apart a vehicle.

    Detection of a suspect vehicle takes into account the demeanor of the driver and passengers but also has a lot to do with CPB's knowledge of what looks right -- and what doesn't.

    "A lot has to do with the interview of the suspect," Jauregui said. "But we're looking at the vehicle, also. Does it look normal, does it look like the way you'd buy it, are the compartments normal or are they modified? We know what a vehicle looks likes. [When] you see a modified vehicle you'll say, 'Hey, this isn't a normal vehicle.' Through time and experience we become experts."

    CPB officials tell us that although marijuana is bulky and smelly by nature, smugglers are now using trash compactors to reduce the size of their illicit cargo. Marijuana, which comes into El Paso predominantly from the Chihuahua region of Mexico south of Juarez, is usually packed into 4 inch by 6-inch blocks that can be easily concealed.

    While smugglers used to transport predominantly in large vehicles, they've taken to deploying new strategies. Now they're running drugs over the border in whatever vehicle they own, and might use decoys like family members or children to conceal the real purpose of their trip.

    "It used to be a lone male in a large vehicle but now we're seeing [everything from] large motorcycles to bicycles," he said.

    Driving To And From Mexico

    Mexico is one of the main thoroughfares for drugs entering the United States. 90% of all cocaine entering the United States comes via Mexico and Central America.

    Such a thoroughfare can create long lines for drivers, obviously. Customs and border officials tend to have a pretty good idea whom and what they're looking for, so don't expect you'll be accused of a crime just by traveling through the border. But, drivers can face a tangled web of documentation needed to cross the border and then safely re-enter the U.S.

    Under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, Americans driving to and from Mexico must carry an approved form of documentation like a passport, passport card or proper RFID (electronic chip)-enabled identification. Previously, a US citizen just needed documents proving identification and residency like a driver's license and birth certificate. The new rule, in place since June, is much more stringent. A passport is ideal, says Jackie Dizdul, a spokeswoman for US Borders and Protection in San Diego.

    She says that drivers most often are surprised to find that certain foodstuffs and agricultural goods are forbidden at the border into Mexico and will be seized upon return to the United States. Common seized goods include fruit, vegetables, raw poultry and eggs.

    "We're checking for bugs, pests and diseases," Dizdul said.

    The most surprising things drivers tend to try to bring back are live animals. Dizdul reports everything from parakeets, chickens and turtles.

    "We've seen all kinds," she said.

    Generally, travelers are advised not to bring pets into Mexico. Dogs and cats can complicate a border trip, so make sure you have proof of vaccination for each. Other things that might attract the attention of Mexican border authorities include most fruit and vegetables, more than one laptop computer per car, prescription medicines without a prescription, and firearms (a permit for hunting rifles must be applied for in advance).

    Declare It Or Lose It
    "The most important thing to remember coming back in is to just declare whatever you are bringing back," Dizdul said. "As long as you declare everything you won't be hit with a fine."

    She advises that travelers check the "know before you go list" (http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/vacation/kbyg/). Limits are placed on alcohol, tobacco, currency, firearms and pre-Columbian artifacts. No items made in Cuba are allowed to be brought through the border, regardless of where you purchased them.

    Expensive durables, such as a laptop or watch, should be declared. Otherwise, you may end up paying duty on the good when bringing it back into the US. These goods can be registered with the Border Protection agency before you leave the US.

    Prepare For Your Trip

    Carry a passport and get it ready before you enter the border area
    Keep all your sales slips for purchases made on your trip
    Try to pack things you'll need to declare separately
    Read and follow the signs in the arrival area

    Get Your Paperwork In Order 
    One of the most important things for any US driver entering Mexico is that most vehicle insurance policies only cover the United States. Marcy B., an adviser with travel services company Mexinsure, says that most US auto insurance policies will not cover you in Mexico.

    "In Mexico, American insurance isn't valid, at least for liability," she said. Supplemental insurance, she says, can be bought online from a variety of companies generally for as little as five dollars per day, depending on the level of cover. A broker fee and Mexican tax are not included.

    Also important for any driver is to ensure any incident or accident is reported to the Mexican authorities while in Mexico. "If you have Mexico insurance you have to--without any question--file a claim in Mexico, or your policy will not be valid."

    Drivers heading across the border into Mexico also are required to carry vehicle registration in the driver's name, or a leasing contract if the vehicle does not belong to a driver. Drivers are advised to carry the $10 vehicle importation permit (available at the border) when continuing to travel in Mexico as it's useful in the case of a theft of or damage to a vehicle. US citizens also will need to carry a driver's license, an international credit card in the driver's name, and an immigration form (unless they are not traveling within 20 miles of the border, or traveling in Baja California).

    To and from Canada

    US Customs and Border Protections Chief Tom Schreiber says there are three key areas for drivers entering the US from Canada to consider: agricultural products, domestic animals and livestock, and contraband.

    "[Most] folks know that narcotics are not legal," Schreiber said. "The gray areas are usually in foods. A chicken doesn't have a 'Product of Canada' label like a chair does -- nor does an orange. The hardest part is always in the agriculture arena. We have agriculture specialists and their main interest is in protecting the US food chain from pests and diseases from outside."

    Canada's policy on pets is different from Mexico's, but drivers still need proof of shots and vaccinations.

    "Most people travel with their pets," Schreiber said. A driver has to show proof that any dog over the age of three months has had their rabies shots.

    "Most people take care of their pets as good as their children," he said. "We never see a dog foaming at the mouth or snapping and snarling. Pets aren't a real issue."

    Contraband can be an issue at the Canada border, but not as often as in Mexico. But, those who attempt to do so tend to get creative just as the smugglers down south.

    "People are generally aware they are not allowed to bring in illegal drugs," he said. "So, they hide them well. A narcotics detective dog is a tool for the line officer to use. If I have a suspicion that [a] story does not add up, I may have a belief the person is involved in narcotics trafficking and I may call in a sniffer dog."

    Other tactics include use of fiber scopes and X-ray devices to check the car's body and interior for hidden compartments.

    Is the driver liable if contraband is found on a passenger? The short answer is yes.

    "The master of the conveyance is responsible for that conveyance and everything in it," Schreiber said. "But if I find the drugs in your pocket, I find you responsible and not the driver; in your suitcase it's your responsibility. We don't prosecute innocent parties, and most will take responsibility, hang their head and ask for leniency. If we do a civil penalty, where we just levy a penalty, we give them an opportunity to explain why [they attempted to carry contraband over the border]. We can lessen the penalty and we can go about our daily business.

    "[For] folks [who] are professional smugglers, it's different," he said. "They are criminals committing a felony and deserve to be treated as such."

    Faith St. John, of the Canada Border Services Agency, says entry to Canada is dependent on much the same criteria as entry to the US in terms of documents -- it also operates under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative -- but cautions that Canadian border officials have a right to question border-crossers on any criminal convictions they may have. A DUI on your record may be enough to prevent entry into Canada.

    Cash must be reported as well.

    "We have a requirement [that] you need to report currency of $10,000 or above," she said. "It's not illegal to bring in, you're not taxed, but you have to report it."

    Guns are not allowed, but some non-restricted firearms are. U.S. citizens who have their guns seized at the border can sometimes reclaim their weapons, but not in all cases.

    "We have a lot of Americans who don't realize that you can't bring your firearms."

    While offenders may face prosecution and fines, visitors to Canada may temporarily import non-restricted firearms, such as hunting rifles and shotguns, if they complete a Non-Resident Firearm Declaration.

    In most cases, a US citizen with valid auto insurance will be covered for their trip in Canada, but it's always recommended to check with your insurance company before you leave, and to carry valid insurance documents at all times.

    If you're planning a trip across the border, make sure you have your documents ready and follow the No. 1 rule of travel: be patient and be flexible.
     

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    Discuss
    1 - 20 of 43 Comments
    asejuggalette Nov 17, 2009 2:37 PM
    There are many drugs that go across our borders everyday pot is a dumb one to try and transport it can be picked up easly by drug dogs and takes much space. I remember teenagers i knew in california going to mexico and buying kethenphedimen (special k )or(animal setives) at the large purina store in tijuana and dumping it into washed windsheild washer bottles and adding blue food coloring to minic washer solvent's smell and all and just setting it in their back seat worked for them everytime! I think customs agents should do more reserch into finding the more deadly and more dangrous drugs then just pot ! No one has ever died of an pot overdose or psychially not mentaly adicted to it .
    Report This
    jamison1fan Nov 15, 2009 1:35 AM
    Of course, this has nothing directly to do with border agents, but just about four and a half years ago, while living in Eureka, Kansas (about an hour east of Wichita, which is where I grew up and now live) there was a story on the local news about an 18-wheeler that had been pulled over on the highway in Wichita, and after asking to search, the officer found, no joke, 2,900 POUNDS of marijuana. Needless to say, the driver went to jail
    Report This
    socalrmairtrnsam Nov 13, 2009 6:20 PM
    Who the hell would go to old mexico during times like this anyway?! Suicidal maniacs?!!
    Report This
    socalrmairtrnsam Nov 13, 2009 6:16 PM
    Any new tips on better ways to smuggle kick a*s illegal fireworks such as those from Missouri, Ohio, Wyoming, and New ********* a flight to L.A. like i used to do back in the late 90s?! Before 9/11 of course!
    Report This
    aftermathlube Nov 13, 2009 5:42 AM
    dont go to mexico........
    Report This
    hrca510 Nov 13, 2009 4:16 AM
    This is all bullcrap now when someone who is nervous enters the border now is going to became a suspect or if someone is shy of society now he is also going to be a suspect this profile fits just about anyone now everybody is going to be a suspect this is just bullcrap and they said that 90% of the drugs comes from Mexico this is another lie what they don't tell you is that most of the drugs that is brought into the country is usually brought in by your own criminal government the CIA and the FBI they are the real ones who are trafficking pure cocaine into the country from Afghanistan the other ones are just lone individual and independent criminal organisations but the real trafficker here is the CIA and the FBI so as you can see these stupid laws are just excuses to intimidate and to control the stupid people of this society and to ends all your freedoms but of course there are going to be morons and sheep-people who will buy every piece of crap the government tells them but if you really love your freedoms and this country you will see pass there lies. go to www.Infowars.com.
    Report This
    mrjustin64 Nov 13, 2009 3:49 AM
    All this border crap is nonsense. The US Government, CIA and Military SHIP IN the drugs. Heroin usage more than 12 times what it used to be prior to the Afghan war. Why? Because the Marines and Army are guarding the poppy fields. Search that!!! Did you know that if you have a laptop you've owned for lets say, 6 months or a year... and you take it into canada, then you try to return to the USA with your old trusty laptop - Customs can say "Oh, you bought this in Canada, didn't you?!" and you'll say: No, I did not. THEN they make you PROVE that you owned it prior in USA, otherwise if you cant, they either take it or fine you a lot of money just for having ******* CALLED TYRANNY!!! Its called living under a dictatorship!! WAKE UP PEOPLE!! Fight them tooth and nail!
    Report This
    eightabs Nov 13, 2009 2:29 AM
    ur stupid sadflower 1969 obviously u dont know anything. If i had to guess who u were, i'd guess ur a lil teen who think smoking pot is the ****
    Report This
    yervas1 Nov 13, 2009 1:50 AM
    I HOPE RACIST PEOPLE DIE EARLY! EVERYONE IS ILLEGAL ALIENS IN THIS U.S COUNTRY WHITE RACIST PEOPLE CAME HERE IN SHIPS EXCEPT THE AMERICAN INDIANS AND OLD INDIAN MEXICANS..WHO WERE HERE FIRST..AND KNOW EVERYONE THINKS THEY ARE ILLEGAL..HAH! THAT IS ********!
    Report This
    sensation1215 Nov 13, 2009 1:23 AM
    this is trash news tryin to terrorize the community, its all ******.
    Report This
    birdsonly Nov 13, 2009 1:19 AM
    Who would want to go to Mexico anyway? There all coming here................
    Report This
    pedrolovestara Nov 13, 2009 1:00 AM
    IM WITH YOU SADFLOWER 1969
    Report This
    pedrolovestara Nov 13, 2009 12:57 AM
    SORRY ABOUT THAT BUT I HAVE ENOUGH PROBLEMS TO WORRY. IF THEY LEGALIZE CANAVIS ITS GONNA GET BETER.
    Report This
    buminthesun421 Nov 13, 2009 12:54 AM
    As long as they don't start checking my ass for hamsters, they can search where ever they like...
    Report This
    belgianbeer Nov 13, 2009 12:44 AM
    how come they can pinch you for bringing in parakeets or eggs but they let the illegal aliens flood in here like a tsunami???
    Report This
    sliksta66 Nov 13, 2009 12:42 AM
    the pest and disease excuse is the biggest bs...its simply because the US wants to keep providing and feeding its population with its genetically modified food....No..dont bring in natural foods without our american taint..
    Report This
    sadflower1969 Nov 13, 2009 12:40 AM
    IF YOU DON'T WANT THE POT ON THE STREETS THEN MAKE A LAW TO WHERE YOU CAN BUY IT LIKE SELLING CIGARETTES,IT'S ILLEGAL TO SELL POT ON THE STREETS AND TO SELL IT SO MAKE IT LEGAL TO BUY FOR ANY ONE THAT NEEDS IT,MEDICAL MARIJUANA,IT'S ALL OVER THE U.S.A.YOU HAVE HEARD OF PEOPLE KILLING PEOPLE BEING DRUNK......YES!,BEING ON DIFFERENT KINDS OF PILLS.........YES,! BUT HAVE HEARD OF PEOPLE BEING ..........HIGH.......AND KILLING PEOPLE............NO.!!!!!!!! LET US HAVE OUR MARIJUANA,TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT SELVES AND EVERY ONE ELSE TOO!!!!!BUT MAKE THE LAW THAT YOU HAVE TO HAVE IT IN YOUR OWN HOME TO DO THIS TYPE OF MEDICINE TO YOUR SELF,AND PLEASE FOR THE '''''''LOVE OF GOD''''''...DO NOT LET THE CHILDREN FIND IT OR YOU WILL BE IN SOME SERIOUS TROUBLE WITH THE LAW,AND TO NEVER ENJOY IT AGAIN.
    Report This
    jenovaxxxstarr Nov 13, 2009 12:39 AM
    i think all of it is stupid if people want to do drugs then hell let them an if peopel want to go on useles vacas to make them selfs pretend to feel better bout them selves then fine but i never ever really got the hole boarder bs peopel are peopel no matter what color race or religion i just dont get with all of the evancements that we have made why we all just cant get along an just be happy
    Report This
    sadflower1969 Nov 13, 2009 12:25 AM
    YOU ALL CAN DO WHAT I DO...............................DON'T NEVER LEAVE HOME..........BEEN MARRIED FOR 18 1/2 YEARS AND HAVE NEVER BEEN ANY WHERE OUTSIDE OF MISSISSIPPI STATE LINE.HAVE FAMILY AND FRIENDS LIVING AROUND US,NO NEED TO TRAVEL.IF YOU LEAVE AND COME BACK A WEEK LATER YOUR STRESS IS GOING TO BE EVEN BIGGER,JUST DO THE STRESS TEST AT HOME AND BE HAPPY YOU DIDN'T LOSE ALL OF YOUR MONEY ON A WASTED TRIP,THAT COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED.{TRYING TO GET THE POT CROSSED OVER TO THE U S A.}BUT THE MORE YOU CATCH THEM THE MORE THEY WILL FIND AND SELL FOR THEMSELVES,YOU NEED TO FIND THE PLACES WHERE THEY ARE GROWING IT AND THEN BREAK THEM OUT.
    Report This
    mistakestyles45 Nov 12, 2009 11:55 PM
    hey listen...it aint the weed itsz the krakk herion nd **** like that ..........legalize WEEEED
    Report This
    1 - 20 of 43 Comments
     
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    Please keep your comments relevant to the 300 lbs Of Pot And A Funky Trunk article.
    You'd be surprised what drivers attempt to take back and forth between the US and its neighboring countries, according to border officials in the US, Canada and Mexico.
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