Crossing From Mexico Into U.S. Will Ease in One Spot
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Construction will begin Monday on an unmanned border checkpoint at Big Bend, a national park in a remote corner of southwest Texas, even as the federal government has been adding agents to patrol other parts of the U.S.-Mexico boundary.
U.S. officials say the crossing, the first of its kind on the southern border, is a concession to trade and tourism in an isolated stretch of hard country where visitors now have to travel a long distance to legally get across the Rio Grande and enter the U.S.
U.S. Customs agents stationed miles away will remotely scan travelers’ documents, allowing visitors to pass easily between Big Bend and the Mexican village of Boquillas del Carmen, which has fallen on hard times as beefed-up border security has cut down on U.S. visitors.
The national park, which attracts about 365,000 visitors a year, stretches over 800,000 acres of rugged mountains and desert, isolated from major roads and cities. The nearest legal crossing point is in Presidio, Texas, more than 100 miles away. The new entry point, similar to unmanned crossings already used on the U.S.-Canada border, will shorten that trip to just a few minutes.
Mexicans and Americans had historically traveled freely in the Big Bend-Boquillas border region, crossing back and forth for more than a century. In the late 19th century, the traffic was driven by lead- and silver-mining operations in Mexico. In more recent times, it was mainly U.S. tourists crossing south to ride burros and buy handicrafts, and Boquillas residents going north to shop at the park store, where they accounted for about 40% of business at the general store, according to a report from the National Park Service.
But after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, informal crossings such as the one at Boquillas ended. Since then, contact between the two communities has been mostly limited to the occasional serenades that some Mexicans volunteer to Americans canoeing down the river in hopes of garnering a tip.
In Boquillas, enterprising artisans tried to make sales by wading across the river and dropping off crafts on the U.S. side with a tin can requesting payment. Such measures have largely failed; the village’s population is estimated to have shrunk by two-thirds, with only 30 families remaining, according to the National Park Service report.