The remoteness of the vast desert and desolate wilderness of the Big Bend region of Texas has made it hard to connect to strong internet service for the residents living here. It also has meant that law enforcement, Border Patrol and officers at the port of entry in Presidio can’t always connect online even when they are working an active case, according to the port director.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Port Director Alejandro Leos, who oversees the port of entry in Presidio, says his 85 officers often can’t connect via their cellphones to verify biometrics on people trying to enter the United States from Mexico at this port.
Leos says that can result in travelers having to wait until their information can go through and officers clear them. He adds that it can put officers at risk if they are in the presence of a person deemed dangerous and they are not aware of it.
“Most of our issues are connected to connectivity issues because of the (internet) service and cell service. But when they do function correctly, it’s a great tool for us to have in our area,” Leos said.
Leos’ officers oversee the port at Presidio, which is closest to Big Bend, as well as those in Midland and Odessa. This area stretches hundreds of miles and the terrain is rough.
Being this far out, sometimes three to seven hours from the nearest town, means that officers need to be able to access information on mobile devices. But the Chisos Mountains and plummeting Santa Elena Canyon, impede connectivity issues here, Leos said.
Currently, his office is going through a mobility testing phase for their phone systems. Leos hopes the result will be to “actually having real-time technology for processing visitors.”
Real-time technology is essential for CBP officers as they assess every situation and every person trying to enter the United States on the Southwest border.
CBP officers “work hand in hand with Border Patrol” agents, other law enforcement personnel and even locals to try and help each other out in this region, which includes 800,000 acres of Big Bend National Park.
“Any additional help we can get, we welcome it,” said Leos.
Some of the migrants processed at the Presidio port, which is the only port of entry for this entire region, are taken across the bridge to Ojinaga, Mexico, to await asylum hearings.
This is under a new policy begun this year called Migrant Protection Protocols, which was started under the Trump administration to alleviate a backlog of migrants in the United States who are awaiting U.S. immigration hearings.
Through August, there were more than one million backlogged immigration court cases to date, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a data gathering, data research and data distribution organization at Syracuse University.
Read prior Border Report stories on migrant protection protocols here.