Hola desde México!
Traveling to Mexico recently my wife and I landed at the airport in Merida, Mexico. I'm a frequent traveler and I have experienced immigration and customs inspections in many different countries. We landed in Merida at 9:00PM on a weekday and while standing in a couple of very long lines took the opportunity to observe the activity around me. Remember, everything in Mexico happens at a much slower pace - and that's OK, I'm on vacation.
The first line was for immigration and it was very long as Mexican citizens were returning for the holidays. There was only one immigration official checking in non-Mexican travelers and the process was slow. As were were traversing through the line at some point someone noticed a small black gym-type bag sitting on the floor at the head of the line. After several people passed the bag by it was reported to to the immigration official. He didn't seemed to be concerned and asked if the bag belonged to anyone standing in line. At first there was no response and he again asked if the back belonged to anyone. It was then someone spoke up and said the bag was theirs. Apparently the person didn't want to carry the bag and placed it at the head of the line. The part about this that surprised me was the bag would have been very suspicious here in the USA, but failed to raise so much as an eyebrow in Mexico.
After clearing immigration we then went to another part of the airport to claim our baggage and go through customs. This is where my story gets interesting. We found our baggage, along with all of the baggage from our flight in an unsecured area. We picked up our bags and waited in line for the immigration check. While in line a customs official checked everyone's papers and asked the obvious Mexican nationals some questions. When it became our turn he took our slip we filled out on the plane, looked at it and said, "OK". When we reached the baggage scanner I noticed the scanner was an outdated model, no longer certified for use in the USA. Passengers were loading their baggage on the scanner belt - sometimes with bags piled on top of each other, including some very large duffel bags. When it became our turn our bags went through the scanner and at the other end our paper was again viewed and I was asked by the customs official to walk up to a machine and press a button. When I did a green light came on and I was told I could leave. Apparently we had passed customs and were free to leave. This was curious as several Mexican nationals in front of us had also received a green light and were passed through. They were the ones who had large duffel bags piled on top of each other, along with large boxes, on the scanner. There is no way the scanner was able to accurately check those bags.
While in Merida we spent some time with a large group of North American's who are permanent residents who passed along their own experiences passing through the airport. One such story was particular funny and I just have to share this with you. A very large African-American male, who I'll just call "Vic" was coming back from the States. Many Americans returning form the States serve as "mules" bringing back food items that are impossible to get in Mexico. Now, as I described, Vic is a large man who walks in a much deliberate lumbering fashion. Vic really sticks out in a crowd. His luggage contained many food items his friends had "ordered" as the items are unobtainable in Mexico including, go figure, Manischewitz Pancake mix. (As a side note I was looking for marshmallow cream in a jar - not even WalMart carried it). I talked with Vic who told me his philosophy was if he got the "red button", I earlier described, his luggage would be searched and the found items would be confiscated - it was only food items.. Well, Vic had packed all of the requested items, including the pancake mix, in his bag and placed some packages of grits on the top layer, yes you heard me correctly, I said grits.
Well as luck would have it Vic got the "red Light" and was directed to the table to have his bag search. Vic was asked to open the bag and as he did the female customs agent stepped back - with a look of surprise on her face, through her hands up into the air, and quickly told Vic to close the suitcase and move on. It appears that the packages of grits had exploded in the bag (unpressurized airline baggage compartment) covering the contents with a white substance - well they were grits. The good ending to this store is - the pancake mix made it through unscathed.
Hola desde México!