2/25/2012, Eric Olson and Chris Wilson of the Mexico Institute are currently driving the Texas-Mexico border, beginning in El Paso/Ciudad Juarez, ending in Brownsville/Matamoros, and blogging along the way.
Day five. Today, Eric and I spent the day in Big Bend National Park, an incredibly beautiful place with a great story that shows how collaboration and creativity can improve border security while connecting the United States and Mexico. We met with park Superintendent Bill Wellman, one of the driving forces behind the effort to reopen the Boquillas port of entry (POE).
Residents of Boquillas also crossed into the United States to purchase household goods and to seek medical treatment through the informal port. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, however, the crossing was shut down due to concerns that the unregulated crossing could be taken advantage of by transnational criminals. When that happened, this store lost approximately $200,000 in yearly sales. Boquillas was hurt even more, as most residents depended on the crossing for their livelihood.
With the leadership of Mexican Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada and US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, an effort was launched to reopen the crossing. With the cooperation of DHS Secretary Napolitano, CBP, Superintendant Wellman, and other US and Mexican officials, a plan was agreed upon to build a remotely manned POE. Once construction is finished and the crossing opened (expected in April 2012), people entering the United States will present their documents at a kiosk electronically monitored by a CBP Office of Field Operations (OFO) officer in El Paso. Though OFO will not have staff at the POE, Border Patrol and Park Rangers will be in the area to stop any suspect border-crossers.
This will re-link the community of Boquillas to Big Bend National Park and is expected to bring economic and security benefits.The crossing was a major park attraction, and more visitors will likely vacation in the area when it opens. Tourists will again be able to visit Boquillas, reactivating its local economy. Boquillas residents, in turn, will purchase goods and services at the park store and other regional businesses. Providing these economic opportunities also lessens appeal of illicit commerce, and giving Mexican citizens US visas creates an incentive for them to comply with US law (or lose the visa).
The new Boquillas crossing is a model for binational and interagency collaboration.