Over the weekend, Matt Drudge tried to inflame passions with a headline blaring "FEDS PLAN UNMANNED BORDER CROSSING WITH MEX. . ." The actual story Drudge hyped, however, should not induce panic in anyone. According to the Associated Press article to which Drudge linked, the crossing will allow access between a national park in Texas and a small Mexican town. Campers in the park used to regularly cross over to the town for supplies, but such crossings were discouraged after the 9-11 attacks.
Furthermore, the article reported: "If the crossing is approved, Border Patrol would have eight agents living in the park in addition to the park's 23 law enforcement rangers. 'I think it's actually going to end up making security better,' CBP spokesman William Brooks said. 'Once you've crossed you're still not anywhere. You've got a long ways to go and we've got agents who are in the area. We have agents who patrol. We have checkpoints on the paved roads leading away from the park.' "
But with a headline and graphic like this from Drudge, it was only a matter of time before someone from Fox took the bait:
The winner was Greta Van Susteren. Luckily for viewers, rather than turn to Fox's usual stable of anti-immigrant commentators, Van Susteren hosted Nathan Thornburgh, a contributing writer for Time, who shot down every attempt by Van Susteren to inflame her viewers with suggestions that the checkpoint could allow people to "just walk through" into America, "inflame a lot of people," cause a "drug smuggler in Juarez to move" to the checkpoint, and "enrage" local residents.
VAN SUSTEREN: [W]hat do you think about this idea? The honor system at our border between the United States and Mexico. A new border crossing but no U.S. agents. People are simply to scan their documents and enter the United States through a national park. A new federal proposal would create an unmanned border entry. The closest customs officer to the U.S. entry point would be a hundred miles away. So what do you think of this idea? Nathan Thornburgh from Time magazine joins us via Skype. Nathan, tell me a little bit more about how this is supposed to work, this new check point, this honor system.
THORNBURGH: Well, like you said Greta, they are basically going to allow residents of the nearby town of Mexico to cross over using only a biometric document. They would scan it into a scanner. They would have a sort of speakerphone call with the customs agent who, like you said, would be about a hundred miles away. And then if the customs agent approves, a sort of gate will lift, and they can come into the Big Bend National Park.
VAN SUSTEREN: Why not just walk through? Is the gate is that secure? I mean, why even bother with the papers?
THORNBURGH: I think because right now it's illegal to walk through, and the law abiding citizens on the Mexican side don't want to get involved in some sort of customs operation or Customs and Border Protection. So, for them, it's much more preferable to be able to come across with papers, do it on the up and up, even if it's an unmanned port of entry.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it's going to inflame a lot of people to hear that there's an unmanned honor system port of entry into the United States out of Mexico. So, can you tell me what the argument in favor of it is -- those who want it?
THORNBURGH: Well, I would certainly share their outrage if this was a port of entry coming from Juarez to El Paso or from Reynosa to McAllen, Texas. But the fact is and this is really the main argument in the favor of this: This is in the middle of an extremely remote area. There's a very small village on the Mexican side. Otherwise, you have literally hundreds of miles of no basically habitation on the U.S. side. So it's not a place where lots and lots of traffic is going to come through. It's not a place even that makes sense for drug smugglers or people smugglers to cross, because on the other side you have the National Park Service -- on the U.S. side. They are actually watching over their own lands. It's one of the less likely places for a real smuggler to want to come through.
VAN SUSTEREN: Are you telling me that it doesn't make any sense if you're a drug smuggler in Juarez to move your operation to this point, this sort of honor system point that once you go through the honor system that there's no way to sort of get to a market to sell your drugs? Is that the explanation on the other side of this?
THORNBURGH: Well, the sad reality of the Texas border in particular -- and I saw this with the helicopter units of the Customs and Border Protection down in McAllen, Texas -- is that you can get through anywhere. The smugglers have a very, very large pool of crossing points to choose from. So no. For them it doesn't make sense to come into this ultra-remote but also National Park Service land. They can find unguarded territory almost anywhere along that border. That's why this does make a strange sort of sense, especially for the residents and the people who are running the national park down there. Let's have one place where honest people can cross, considering the dishonest can cross everywhere.
VAN SUSTEREN: Are the people down there -- are there a lot of people who are enraged by the concept of an honor system there?
THORNBURGH: No, I don't think so. And what I often find reporting from the border lands is that what sounds strange to us in the inland areas in New York, Washington, and farther from the border, actually makes a lot of sense to them down there. You have to remember that this is one economy, one ecosystem, and that means both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. So the town that had been on the Mexican side has been dying since 9-11 since that border closed. The National Park Service has really been pushing for this checkpoint because they want to be able to better communicate with their counterparts in the parks in Mexico. Everybody that lives on the border wants a little bit more breathing room, a little bit more opportunity to interact. Remember also, Greta, that in order to reach from one side of the river to the other side, legally, through a current border crossing it would take a 16-hour round-trip car ride. So these people are very excited to have an opportunity to cross directly.
VAN SUSTEREN: Nathan, thank you. We'll be watching this because I'm sure there's going to be more developments.