Sign marking the Lajitas crossing. Brad Tyer Drug traffickers also drive across shoals in the river in 4×4 Fords, with beds full of pot. On May 10, 2002, the Border Patrol, which has always pursued narcotics traffickers and illegal immigrants, began, without warning, to enforce the law against crossing, period. Twenty-one people were arrested, including “Gordo,” the 18year-old boatman who rowed the jonboat back and forth at Paso Lajitas. Gordo was taken to El Paso, to await deportation. He couldn’t have been 20 yards from the Mexican shore when his boat was confiscated in the middle of the Rio Grande. “You know what I wish? I wish they’d told us: In three weeks this is going to change.” Greg Henington, proprietor of Texas River and Jeep Expeditions and chairman of the Visit Big Bend Tourism Council, is taking a breather from his move into his company’s new home. “They’re not stopping anyone who shouldn’t be here.” On the other hand, Border Patrol is just doing its lost-9/11 job, and nobody’s in much of a position to blame them for that. Icheck into Lajitas’ faux-Western Badlands Hotela discounted $100 a night during the hot months, new slogan: The Ultimate Hideoutand sleep in one of the “Officer’s Quarters” outbuildings. The rooms in the main building aren’t ready yet; the floors have been refinished, the wood is still tacky. There’s a flashlight mounted to the wall, for power outages, which happen, a consequence of The Ultimate Hideout’s increasing demands upon Brewster County’s rickety electrical grid. The check-in girl shows me, on a resort map, the parking lot at the little bend in the river where Gordo’s flat-bottomed boat had been confiscated. The resort has erected a plaque at the site: “Tracks across the centuries indicate that pre-Columbian native Americans used the Lajitas crossing thousands of years beyond the present horizon. Spanish conquistadors were the first Europeans to cross here in the 16th Century… Comanches and Mescalero Apaches arrived after the Spanish. In the 18th and 19th centuries, red raiders from the north crossed the river here in the fall and used the San Carlos trail to strike deep into Mexico… In the 20th century bandits, bootleggers, land] businessmen used the crossing… Today the historic crossing connects two nations and cultures and is used by tourists and travelers from around the world.” A few yards behind the sign, Border Patrol has strung up a low length of steel cable between two low steel posts, to block truck traffic. I visit twice, see no agents. The second visit, the Rio Grande’s banks are muddy from an unexpected surge of high water from rains dumped in to the north. There’s a pile of muddy clothes wadded up beneath a yucca in the shadow of the plaque, and just downstream, deep tire ruts in the fresh mud of the American side, disappearing into the water. Mixed messages everywhere. “T here’s been a rapid growth spurt down there,” is the explanation from Simon Garza, chief of Border Patrol’s Marfa Sector, whose 215 officers cover some 135,000 square miles of territory. “Apparently it attracted illegal immigrants to come in and seek employment,” Garza tells me. “And where a few year ago maybe the scenario down there was a few tourists going back and forthand I had other things I had to prioritize as far as responding with the limited resources I haveit rose to a level where it had to be responded to.” The idea, one surmises, is that a border this long, this porous, this sparsely populated, enforced in this winking and nodding fashion, holds potential threat to what people hopefully ` think of as homeland security. Since September 11, 2001,, Border Patrol has seen its resources and its directive bolstered to the cause, and the unannounced May 10 crackdown 7119/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5
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