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Big Bend border crossing to Boquillas, Mexico set to reopen later this month

The port of entry, often praised as a success story of U.S. - Mexico relations in the post-9/11 era, is set to reopen on Nov. 17 after being closed throughout the pandemic.

By Travis Bubenik

A border crossing linking Big Bend National Park in West Texas with the tiny Mexican tourist town of Boquillas del Carmen will reopen on Nov. 17, officials tell Marfa Public Radio.

“We’re prepared to process travelers there once again,” said Roger Maier, a spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “We intend to have some of our personnel actually at the park the first day or so, just to make sure everything is operating as it should.”

For decades, Boquillas has been a popular destination for visitors to the Big Bend, regularly hosting tourists who take a small rowboat ride across the Rio Grande to eat, drink and shop in the small town.

Historically an informal crossing, the area was effectively sealed off for years in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Later, in an experiment largely heralded as a success story of U.S.-Mexico relations in the post-9/11 era, the crossing was reopened through a unique system where travelers speak remotely via a kiosk to border agents stationed elsewhere. 

After the crossing was closed once again in early 2019 because of stalled budget negotiations in Congress, the town’s economy suffered yet another blow with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to tightened border restrictions nationwide.

Some Boquillas residents have managed to stay afloat through the pandemic by selling goods along the Rio Grande or through social media, where they sell handmade crafts to customers as far away as San Antonio and Dallas. But the latter requires family members in the U.S. traveling long distances to pick up and bring back the merchandise. 

Bob Krumenaker, Superintendent of Big Bend National Park, said the park looks forward to the reopening.

“Traveling to Boquillas is a very critical and wonderful part of a visit to Big Bend National Park,” he said.

According to Maier, the same pandemic-related rules in place at ports of entry across the U.S. will apply to the Boquillas crossing.

Currently, U.S. citizens hoping to visit Boquillas from the national park do not need to show they’ve received a COVID vaccine to get there and back.

However, under new policies going into effect Monday, Nov. 8, travelers who are not U.S. citizens coming into the U.S. do have to show they’ve been vaccinated.

That means that any non-citizen tourists to Big Bend would have to be fully vaccinated to visit Boquillas and return to the park, and that Boquillas residents hoping to enter the park through the crossing would also have to show they’ve been vaccinated.

Officials with the Mexican consulate in Presidio, Texas said Thursday they had not heard of any new protocols that would be put in place on the Mexican side of the Boquillas crossing.

Krumenaker said for the winter, the crossing in the national park will be open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“Obviously it’s an additional place in the park that we need to staff that we have not been staffing in the last year and a half, but we’re prepared to do that,” he said.

The crossing is reopening a week later than the lifting of restrictions at other ports-of-entry along the Texas-Mexico border because the park needed more time to figure out how to staff the facility, Krumenaker said.

“With the very short notice we were provided, 11/17 is the earliest date both agencies have available staff,” he said.

Annie Rosenthal contributed reporting from Big Bend National Park.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.