The U.S.-Mexico border is 1,954 miles long, of which 580 miles was fenced (not “walled”!) prior to Donald Trump taking office (Wikipedia). That leaves 1,374 miles of proposed new barrier (immoral “wall” if built by Trump; moral “fence” if built by others?). Of those 1,374 miles, 118 miles are part of Big Bend National Park.
Reading The Line Becomes a River, by a former Border Patrol agent (2008-2012), made me wonder how Trump’s proposed barrier can work along this part of the border. Some excerpts:
On a hot Texas evening at the edge of Big Bend National Park, I watched a man ride his horse across the Rio Grande.
I gestured at the village across the river and asked the man if he lived in Boquillas. Of course, he said, beaming with pride. I asked what he did for work and he nodded at the unattended souvenirs and handmade crafts that had been set out atop the rocks. No hay trabajo, he complained—we make our money from tourists. I asked if many Americans crossed over to visit. Sure, he said, Boquillas is very safe. Narcos don’t bother us, even the rangers and la migra leave us alone. He paused. You know, he said, there’s a nice restaurant in my village. Is there breakfast? I asked. Of course, he smiled. I’ll come for you in the morning.
The next morning, as the sun grew pale and white in the eastern sky, I met my guide at the banks of the river. He instructed me to climb onto his horse, and then, like it was nothing, he spurred the animal across the river into Mexico. We spoke little as I jostled atop sauntering haunches and grasped at the back of his saddle. Passing the first cinderblock homes of Boquillas, I considered the extent to which my safekeeping depended upon this stranger, leading me into the silent and unfamiliar streets of his village.
Our young fit fluent-in-Spanish half-Mexican hero bravely makes a trip that, during my visit to Big Bend, was mostly being taken by senior citizens after exiting from their RVs. The “river” is more like a wide shallow stream at this point in its course. Neither the U.S. nor Mexico was bothering to do any border control at the border. In the case of the U.S., there were checkpoints across the roads about 50 miles north. I enjoyed my time in Boquillas, especially the town’s dusty museum (unattended by any guard; pay into a box via the honor system).
The National Park Service now has an official guide to visiting Boquillas. It seems that the ability to walk to Boquillas and get a taco was one of the freedoms we supposed lost after 9/11 (Wikipedia; except that the author made it across easily!), but since 2013 (Wikipedia) there is a formal border crossing.
I wonder how Trump’s political promise can be implemented in this part of the country. Here are some possibilities:
- Despite the idea that national parks are supposed to be mostly natural, we install an ugly fence along our side of the river. It will appear in every visitor’s snapshots from Big Bend.
- We build a fence on the north edge of the park, with checkpoints at the handful of roads that would cross the fence. Any caravan of migrants that has made its way to Mexico City can ride a bus for another 18 hours, get off in Boquillas, walk across the Rio Grande and tell the nearest park ranger “I am seeking asylum” (or give birth to a baby who will then be entitled to bring the parents in 18 years from now, thus saddling U.S. taxpayers with the cost of public housing, health care, food stamps, etc., for the now-older parents)
- We pay the Mexicans to build a monster fence somewhere on their side of the border, out of sight of the tourists who come to Big Bend (but the Mexicans have their own state park on their side).
Is there any other alternative that is consistent with Trump’s campaign promise?
[Also, given that it is easy to walk into the U.S. at Big Bend, why aren’t migrant caravans choosing this route right now? Why wait near the border in Tijuana, for example, when one could just as easily be over the border and on one’s way from Big Bend?]Full post, including comments