Virtual guards to monitor remote Texas border crossing

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BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK, Texas — A new border crossing in far West Texas will rely on technology to screen people traveling between the U.S. and Mexico.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers viewing documents won't be on site, but stationed miles away at another location.

The automated border crossing is at the port of entry inside Big Bend National Park.

Visitors to Big Bend National Park are attracted by the beauty and the border. The Rio Grande divides the United States and Mexico here. Generations of park visitors used to make day trips across the river to the little Mexican village of Boquillas.

That boat ride across the border will begin again this spring when the federal government reopens a border crossing in the isolated national park.

"It is considered a benefit both for tourists and the scientific community to be able to cross here," said Big Bend National Park spokesman David Elkowitz.

The customs officers viewing those documents won't be stationed on this stretch of border, but rather miles away. The automated crossing is a first for the Southwest border.

The new visitor center serving the border crossing is now under construction. When it's complete, it will be where tourists returning from Mexico and visitors from Mexico will scan their documents.

Park staff will run the visitors' center, but if there are any immigration problems, border patrol agents in the park can respond. There are 700 agents in the region.

After the September 11 attacks, the federal government shut down the old informal port of entry at Boquillas, and that forced people to make a three-hour drive each way to the nearest legal crossing point.

That made life hard for some people who live in Boquillas, just across from Big Bend National Park. Cut off from tourists, it became a virtual ghost town.

A few people survive by sneaking back and forth across the border to display their handicrafts on boulders along with a coffee can for cash.

The U.S. has already installed a few automated crossings on the Canadian border.

The first one in the Southwest is scheduled to open in April, but the exact date has not been announced. The U.S. Border Patrol has cameras set up along the Rio Grande to monitor the crossing.