CBP using remote tech for unmanned border crossing with Mexico

The checkpoint at Big Bend National Park in a remote area of west Texas will use kiosks monitored by agents in El Paso and surveillance cameras to allow pedestrians to cross.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is getting ready to open the first unmanned, computerized crossing station on the border with Mexico, staffed by scanner-equipped, remotely operated kiosks and monitored by surveillance cameras.

The Boquillas crossing, scheduled to open Jan. 28, will connect Big Bend National Park and the Mexican town of Boquillas del Carmen, across the Rio Grande from the remote area of west Texas. The crossing will serve only pedestrians and be open only during daylight hours, CBP said in announcing the opening.  The crossing station won’t process vehicles, cargo or commercial entries.

People crossing the border will use the kiosks to present travel documents that comply with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), which CBP has used at border stations since 2009. The kiosks will be connected to the port of entry at El Paso, Texas, where CBP officers will process border crossers remotely, CBP said. The crossing station will be monitored by surveillance cameras 24 hours a day. The cameras will be monitored around the clock from CBP's Combined Area Security Center and at the Alpine Border Patrol Station, in Alpine, Texas.

During a public comment period after CBP proposed the unmanned crossing in late 2011, some people claimed that the station would be a security problem. But CBP has maintained that the technology used at the crossing would actually improve security in the area. Border Patrol agents will be posted at a substation at Big Bend (along with National Park Service rangers), and they could respond quickly to anyone attempting to cross illegally, or if a physical inspection is necessary. And the crossing accommodates foot traffic only, with no roads or vehicle bridges at that point.

The Boquillas crossing is located more than 100 miles from the nearest entry point, at Presidio, and one reason for opening the station was to boost commerce with Boquillas del Carmen, by not requiring residents to travel hundreds of miles back and forth to go from the town to the park or the park to the town.

As for illegal activity, Boquillas is in a remote area of the border, where it would be an unlikely place for someone without credentials to gain entry. After the plan was proposed, William Wellman, then superintendent of Big Bend, told Fox News,  “you’d have to be a real idiot to pick the only place with security in 300 miles of the border to try sneak across.”

Although this is the first unmanned crossing station on the border with Mexico, the remote technology has been used at spots on the Canadian border for several years, CBP said.

CBP also has made other forays into automated border checkpoints. At a crossing in Arizona, the agency last year tested a bilingual avatar that would interview people crossing the border and use voice recognition and anomaly detection software to look for signs they were lying.

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