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News (Media Awareness Project) - US TX: Unmanned US-Mexico Border Crossing Slated For Small
Title:US TX: Unmanned US-Mexico Border Crossing Slated For Small
Published On:2011-12-12
Source:Herald Democrat (Sherman,TX)
Fetched On:2011-12-15 06:02:48
UNMANNED U.S.-MEXICO BORDER CROSSING SLATED FOR SMALL TEXAS TOWN

BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK - The bloody drug war in Mexico shows no sign
of relenting. Neither do calls for tighter border security amid rising
fears of spillover violence.

This hardly seems a time the U.S. would be willing to allow people to
cross the border legally from Mexico without a customs officer in
sight. But in this rugged, remote West Texas terrain where wading
across the shallow Rio Grande undetected is all too easy, federal
authorities are touting a proposal to open an unmanned port of entry
as a security upgrade.

By the spring, kiosks could open up in Big Bend National Park allowing
people from the tiny Mexican town of Boquillas del Carmen to scan
their identity documents and talk to a customs officer in another
location, at least 100 miles away.

The crossing, which would be the nation's first such port of entry
with Mexico, has sparked opposition from some who see it as
counterintuitive in these days of heightened border security.
Supporters say the crossing would give the isolated Mexican town
long-awaited access to U.S. commerce, improve conservation efforts and
be an unlikely target for criminal operations.

"People that want to be engaged in illegal activities along the
border, ones that are engaged in those activities now, they're still
going to do it," said William Wellman, Big Bend National Park's
superintendent. "But you'd have to be a real idiot to pick the only
place with security in 300 miles of the border to try to sneak across."

The proposed crossing from Boquillas del Carmen leads to a vast
expanse of rolling scrub, cut by sandy-floored canyons and violent
volcanic rock outcroppings. The Chihuahuan desert wilderness is home
to mountain lions, black bears and roadrunners, sparsely populated by
an occasional camper and others visiting the 800,000-acre national
park.

Customs and Border Protection, which would run the port of entry, says
the proposal is a safe way to allow access to the town's residents,
who currently must travel 240 road miles to the nearest legal entry
point. It also would allow park visitors to visit the town.

If the crossing is approved, Border Patrol would have eight agents
living in the park in addition to the park's 23 law enforcement rangers.

"I think it's actually going to end up making security better," CBP
spokesman William Brooks said.

"Once you've crossed you're still not anywhere. You've got a long ways
to go and we've got agents who are in the area. We have agents who
patrol. We have checkpoints on the paved roads leading away from the
park."

A public comment period runs through Dec. 27 on the estimated $2.3
million project, which has support at the highest levels of government
from both countries.

But U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican member of the House
Homeland Security committee, questioned the wisdom of using resources
to make it easier to cross the border.

"We need to use our resources to secure the border rather than making
it easier to enter in locations where we already have problems with
illegal crossings," McCaul said in an email. "There is more to the
oversight of legal entry than checking documents. (U.S. Customs and
Border Protection) needs to be physically present at every point of
entry in order to inspect for contraband, detect suspicious behavior
and, if necessary, act on what they encounter."

While CBP will run the port of entry, the National Park Service is the
driver behind the project, which it hopes will help conservation
efforts on both sides of the border. Even as the National Park Service
has increased cooperation with its Mexican counterpart, joint
conservation has been limited by the inability of personnel to cross
the border without making a circuitous 16-hour drive, Wellman said.

So the National Park Service is building the contact station just
above the Rio Grande. It will house CBP kiosks where crossers will
scan in their documents and talk to a customs officer in Presidio, the
nearest port of entry, or another remote location. Park service
employees will staff the station, offering information about the park
and guiding people through the process.

Similar ports of entry are already in operation on remote parts of the
border with Canada.

"We think we can do this without doing any damage to national security
and possibly enhance security along the border by having better
intelligence, better communication with people in Mexico," Wellman
said.

The crossing would also restore a long-running relationship between
the park, its visitors and the residents of Boquillas del Carmen, the
town of adobe dwellings set a short distance from the river in Mexico.

For years, U.S. tourists added an international dimension to their
park visit by wading or ferrying in a rowboat across the shallow Rio
Grande to the town. There they bought handicrafts and tacos, providing
much-needed cash in the isolated community.

But US officials discouraged such informal crossings in 2002 after the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks prompted calls for tighter border security.
Without access to tourists or supplies on the U.S. side, the town of
just more than 100 people has seen a 42 percent drop in population
from 2000 to 2010.

Gary Martin, who manages the Rio Grande Village store at a nearby park
campground, recalls many Mexican residents crossing the river to pick
up groceries and other necessities.

"We're their supply," Martin said. "They don't have any electricity
over there. So they would come here and buy frozen chicken, cake mixes
and things that they couldn't get over there."

Martin tried to stock food items Boquillas del Carmen residents
wanted, such as eggs and big sacks of beans.

"After the border closed, well, I got rid of most of my food and went
back to gifts because I wasn't making any money," Martin said. He
estimated about 40 percent of the store's revenue came from Boquillas
residents.

Few have risked crossing to the store since. "If they get caught over
here they get shipped off," he said. "They get deported all the way to
Ojinaga and then they've got to find their way home. It's not really
worth it."

Still, most days some Boquillas del Carmen residents wade across the
river a short distance downstream of the old crossing and scramble up
to a paved overlook perched high above the river.

On boulders near the parking spots they lay out painted walking
sticks, scorpions and roadrunners crafted from copper wire and
colorful beads. Each craftsman's work occupies a different rock and
operates on the honor system with the hope tourists will drop four or
five dollars in their jar.

"Sometimes we don't sell anything," said Boquillas del Carmen resident
Guillermo Gonzalez Diaz. "Sometimes we sell one." And other times
authorities confiscate everything.

Gonzalez, a 34-year-old father of three, described his town as "very
sad, very hard" and said there was no work. Without access to the Rio
Grande Village store, residents depend on a bus that runs once a week
to Melchor Muzquiz, a larger town about 150 miles away, for supplies.

A small military presence protects the town from the drug-related
violence that has engulfed other Mexican border towns. Now with news
of the port of entry, residents are already making plans for
restaurants and shops, he said.

"When it closed nobody crossed and everything went downhill. People
began to leave," he said. "Now people are going to return."
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