U.S. travelers from Los Angeles are facing detainment and hefty fines for mistakenly using the wrong lane when crossing the official border from Mexico into the United States, it has emerged.
According to KTTV-TV, two residents of Los Angeles reported being detained and forced to pay fines to avoid having their cars impounded after accidentally using the Sentri Lane, which is designated for pre-approved travelers.
"They shackled me to this metal bench as I waited for three hours," said Rose, a Burbank, California resident, describing her experience at the Tijuana/San Ysidro Port of Entry, where she accidentally used the Sentri Lane, which has concrete barriers that make it impossible for a car to leave the lane once it has entered.
"When we put in the address to go back home, it basically told us to go through a certain way, I guess Sentri is the fastest way to get out of the border," she added.
Ana Salazar, a Pasadena, California resident, had a similar experience and said, "I had never been humiliated in my life the way I was humiliated that afternoon."
Attorney John Manley, who has represented drivers who have been detained and fined for using the wrong lane, said, "They basically shackle you to a bench for two, three hours. They say, ‘Yep, we’re gonna take your car,’ or, ‘we’re gonna fine you $5,000,’ for what amounts to being in the wrong lane of traffic."
The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency stated that drivers are issued a $5,000 fine only if they have used the Sentri lane for the third time. However, California residents told KTTV-TV they never received a warning.
"When I was in the office waiting, one of the agents came in and he shouted at everyone else in the office, ‘Oh, we got another $5K,'" Salazar continued. "Obviously, it was someone else that went through the same thing I did. So, I just thought to myself, Oh, this is just a business."
Bernardo Montenegro and his common-law wife Patricia Caro from Fontana, California, reported that they were fined a total of $10,000 for using the Sentri Lane and that the CBP forgave 90% of the penalty when they appealed the fine. "We just got into the wrong lane," he said. "We didn’t do anything else wrong but get into the wrong lane."
The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has yet to respond to these specific claims, but did state that a $5,000 fine is only issued to drivers who have used the Sentri lane for the third time, although many have said they received no warning whatsoever.
The issue is causing anger and concern among travelers, with some calling the penalties excessive for a simple mistake. The CBP's policy of issuing fines for repeat offenders and not providing prior warnings also raises questions about the fairness of the system. It remains to be seen if any changes will be made to address these issues.