Opening a Break in Big Bend Country

[imgbelt img=crossingboquillas320.jpg]After 9/11, a border crossing from the village of Boquillas, Mexico, was closed. Now a proposed port of entry could preserve local wildlife and save a dying town.


Shelton A. Gunaratne

Shelton Gunaratne and Yoke-Sim rode rented mules from Boquillas to the international crossing into the U.S. in 1991. Border officilas clamped down on such travel here after September 11, 2001.
“Oh yes, we’ve been talking back and forth with people over there for years and years,” Lightbarn said of the people of Boquillas del Carmen. “We’re anxious to visit.” Lightbarn also said she hopes the variety of groceries will return to Martin’s shelves once the border reopens and there is greater demand.
Chief Ranger Allen Etheridge understands that those who are not familiar with the park may find it strange that an automated border crossing is opening in a remote area when there is so much money and manpower being put into protecting other sections of the border.
“The most common question we get is whether the park is safe,” Etheridge said. “And yes, the park is safe, yes. We have one of the lowest crime rates in the nation – park and county.  What’s interesting is that when visitors ask if it’s safe, we also ask them where they’re from. Generally they tell us a large city.”
Etheridge says that border crossers with unlawful intent have realized there are easier routes than the isolated Chihuahuan desert, since there are no cities of size here for hundreds of miles.
“The desert here in this part of Texas is vast, expansive; the terrain is inhospitable and often deadly when people try to traverse it,” Etheridge said. “On the other side there is even less infrastructure and more desert and even higher mountains.” Santa Elena Canyon, which looks to the eye like a natural border wall, is 1500 feet deep in some places. Etheridge calls it a natural barrier.
“There are areas in the park where you can easily cross, the river is shallow, you can even drive a vehicle across when the water is low,” says Etheridge. “But we monitor those areas and we monitor by aircraft and have people on patrol.”
Though U.S. Customs and Border Protection collects statistics on the numbers of drug seizures and apprehensions of those crossing illegally in the Big Bend sector, officials say this data is not useful for understanding the impact of the Boquillas closure. That’s because the sector measured by the data is much larger than this stretch of borderland, and new advances in personnel and technology have had significant impacts on the numbers.
If anything, officials say, a new port of entry would be the least logical place for illegal immigrants or drug traffickers to cross.
“If you look up river and down river, it doesn’t make any difference,” said William Brooks, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “If you’re bent on crossing illegally, you don’t have to go far.”
In addition, all vehicles are funneled through two checkpoints before they can leave the park. There, canines sniff for drugs and Border Patrol officers question travelers about their citizenship and their reasons for visiting the U.S.

the public is currently invited to comment on the border crossing online.