Sometimes it's hard to find ways to explain to people how unwieldy the federal government has become, how dysfunctional the bureaucracy is and how precious little common sense seems to be applied to even the most serious of topics. And, then, every once in awhile, along comes an example that perfectly illustrates all of those issues.
Such an example is the recent decision of the federal government to reopen the Boquillas border crossing in Big Bend National Park in Texas and to leave it unmanned.
Yes, you read that correctly. The federal government is reopening a border crossing between the United States and Mexico, previously closed for security reasons, but assigning no personnel to it.
Since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched his offensive against narcotics traffickers in 2006, over 35,000 people have been killed in drug war-related violence around Mexico according to government figures. A week ago Mexican police found the bodies of three men who had been tortured and shot to death in the city of Apatzingan in Michoacan state. Two of the men were placed on chairs and the other in the center of a traffic circle at the city's entrance. On the same day, in the resort city of Acapulco, seven men were killed in three separate drug related attacks. In recent weeks in Veracruz a total of 67 bodies have been found, all victims of drug cartel hitmen. Over the past few months, Mexican authorities have unearthed more than 140 bodies from mass graves in the state of Tamaulipas. Many of the victims were kidnapped off buses and killed when they refused to work for the Zetas, perhaps the most bloodthirsty of the Mexican cartels.
The actions of these cartels are no longer confined to Mexico. The groups have long since begun to operate inside the United States and to bring with them the same level of violence. According to the Department of Homeland Security, in fact, Mexican cartels are now active in 276 US cities.
Police departments along the US-Mexican border complain that they are out gunned and out manned by drug smugglers armed with automatic weapons, grenades and state-of-the-art communications and tracking systems. According to a recent FBI intelligence bulletin one drug smuggling network recently stockpiled weapons in safe houses in the U.S. in response to crackdowns in this country and Mexico against drug traffickers. According to the bulletin, gang members were ordered to confront any law enforcement officers who tried to seize the weapons. These gang members were armed with "assault rifles, bullet proof vests and grenades."
A new report "Texas Border Security '- A Strategic Military Assessment" by retired Army Generals Barry M. McCaffrey and Robert H. Scales is worth quoting at length:
"During the past two years the state of Texas has become increasingly threatened by the spread of Mexican cartel organized crime. The threat reflects a change in the strategic intent of the cartels to move their operations into the United States. In effect, the cartels seek to create a "sanitary zone" inside the Texas border -- one county deep -- that will provide sanctuary from Mexican law enforcement and, at the same time, enable the cartels to transform Texas' border counties into narcotics transshipment points for continued transport and distribution into the continental United States... Farmers and ranchers whose families have spent generations on the Texas side of the border reflect on how the character and intent of border crossing immigrants have changed over the past three years. They now see most of the intruders on their land as men tattooed with the marks of cartels, gangs and in some cases Hezbollah members. They are confronted often with border-crossers who demand to use their phones or trucks. Texas homes are now surrounded by strangers who harass the owners until they concede their land for use by the cartels. Farmers refuse to travel at night... Illegal immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America, Pakistan, India, Africa, China and elsewhere turn up day and night'Decaying human remains litter the landscape... Encounters by ranchers with groups of menacing strangers are commonplace. The situation is so bad that owners of a ranch in Brooks County packed up and left their 38,000 acre ranch because the area has become, as they described it, a war zone. Their home had been broken into, their land littered with garbage and the distinct sounds of gunfire could be heard from their front porch day and night."
In the face of all of this, Homeland Security officials are now preparing to reopen a port of entry, closed after the 2001 terrorist attacks for security reasons, as an unmanned border crossing monitored by federal agents hundreds of miles away. US Customs agents will remotely scan cooperating travelers' documents, but there will be no personnel on site to enforce compliance with procedures or to intervene in response to individuals circumventing the system.
Area residents who expressed security concerns about the opening of an unmanned border crossing were reassured by the head of the Homeland Security agency handling the crossing. "People who act criminally will act criminally regardless if there's a lawful crossing here," said Alan Bersin, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Bersin flew to the area recently by helicopter to announce the reopening, which is scheduled for Spring 2012. He admitted that Mexico had a "long way to go" in combating organized crime and corruption, but said the country had "acknowledged the problem" and taken "corrective action."
The decision to reopen the crossing was made even as Republican candidates for the Presidential nomination debated how best to enhance border security, the federal government rushed additional agents to the border and prosecution began in the case of an Iranian Qods Force asset accused of soliciting the cooperation of Mexican drug cartels in an attack on the Saudi Ambassador in Washington, DC. In short, while every possible indicator suggested that border security remained a major unresolved problem directly threatening the lives of American citizens, the US Customs Service decided to open a border crossing closed for a decade and to entrust compliance with procedures at the crossing to the good faith of individuals entering the United States of America from Mexico.
That this is a stupendously stupid idea is self-evident. That deadly criminal organizations with a demonstrated record of contempt for our laws and procedures will exploit this "honor system" opening in our defenses for their own ends is just as obvious. The fact remains. This is not an idea. This is not a proposal. Construction of the new crossing has begun. The National Park Service has even announced that it will begin to operate a ferry across the Rio Grande River in order to make it easier for Mexicans to reach the border crossing and enter the United States.
As we seek to gain control over our run-away bureaucracy, cut spending and free our economy and society from the grip of a bloated federal government, we will face many challenges. Perhaps none of those challenges will be so great, however, as finding a way to inject some common sense into Washington and the agencies headquartered there. Unfortunately, no matter how quickly we do that, it will be too late to undo the damage that is about to be done on our border with the opening of this new port of entry. The drug cartels cannot possibly fail to recognize the open invitation it represents.