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Big Bend Border Crossing To Reopen

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

The news from our southwest border is usually about increased security, more fences, more agents, more unmanned aerial vehicles. Yesterday the federal government announced it plans to reopen a border crossing. It's between Texas and Mexico and it was shut down after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. NPR's John Burnett reports that local residents are elated.

JOHN BURNETT: Fearing terrorists sneaking up from Mexico, the U.S, government shut down this informal crossing, and others like it, up and down the border. On Thursday, Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, Alan Bursin, stood in the national park and made a startling announcement.

M: There's a great expression in Spanish: el futuro ya no es lo que era antes. The future is not what it used to be. And you never can go back, but you can go forward. This crossing which will mean so much to the local communities can be accomplished without, in any way at all, compromising the security of the American homeland.

BURNETT: The actual crossing will be via ferry boat, the second one on the southwest border. A Border Patrol official says the leaky rowboat from Boquillas will be replaced by an approved river-worthy watercraft operated by a park concessionaire. Construction on a combination park visitor center and passport- control building will begin next summer. And they hope the first visitors can float across by April of 2012. Today, Boquillas del Carmen is nearly dead, depending, as it did, almost totally on the national park.

M: When we shut it down, they had no way to get food, work, gas; I mean most of these towns are a good five, six hours from any other real village.

BURNETT: That's Cynta de Narvaez, a retired river guide and crossborder activist who lives in nearby Terlingua. After the Border Patrol closed the crossing, she says she had to travel 12 hours, through Del Rio, to get to the families she was helping in Boquillas.

M: April of 2012, I think that's fantastic. It's beautiful over there, there's incredible mountains, and the people there are friendly and they've been shut off for quite some time.

BURNETT: A Border Patrol official says the Interior Department and the Department of Homeland Security have been quietly working for the past two years to make this happen. Last year, President Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon signed a joint statement pledging both countries' interest to protect wild lands on opposite sides of the river. It's an idea that's been around for more than 70 years. Rick LoBello is education curator at the El Paso Zoo and a longtime advocate for a bi-national park.

M: So I think it's great news for the people of Mexico in that area, for Big Bend National Park, for ecotourism, and for the hopes of an international park some day.

BURNETT: John Burnett, NPR News, Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.