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Illegal Border Crossings By US Citizens On Rio Grande Continue Despite Border Clampdown

US citizens use ropes cross the Rio Grande from Mexico, on the right, into Texas. It is not a violation of US law to walk into Mexico. Returning here, miles from the nearest legal port of entry, is. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

CANDELARIA, Texas—In a reversal of stereotypes along one rugged stretch of the Rio Grande, it is US citizens who are breaking border laws. It is, of course, illegal to enter the US without passing through an official border crossing. Along one stretch of the Rio Grande, the artery that marks the US border with Mexico, US citizens are doing just that because of a shortage of basic services in rural Texas, such as health care.

Informal, unregulated crossings have been a fixture of life for generations in rural communities on the river. It is a scene that’s been replayed over the generations. Today, however, with the unrelenting focus on border security, this kind of unfettered back and forth by US citizens is rare.

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US Citizens Skirting Border Laws To Survive On Rio Grande

A woman wades across the Rio Grande into Chihuahua. She's a US citizen on her way to see family in Mexico living a few hundred yards from the shore. It's not illegal to exit the US here, only to return the same way. The nearest legal crossing is close to two hours away. (Lorne Matalon)

A woman wades across the Rio Grande into Chihuahua. She’s a US citizen on her way to see family in Mexico living a few hundred yards from the shore. It’s not illegal to exit the US here, only to return the same way. The nearest legal crossing is close to two hours away. (Lorne Matalon)

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A woman wades across the Rio Grande into Chihuahua. She's a US citizen on her way to see family in Mexico living a few hundred yards from the shore. It's not illegal to exit the US here, only to return the same way. The nearest legal crossing is close to two hours away. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

A version of this story also aired on the Texas Standard, a statewide reporting collaboration led by KUT in Austin.

CANDELARIA, Texas — The United States and Mexico are pouring money into a showcase experiment to rescue damaged economies on the Texas-Mexico border.

But that experiment only involves two towns, Boquillas in Mexico and the community of visitors and National Park Service personnel at Big Bend National Park, a epic mosaic of desert, rock and sky that already draws hundreds of thousands of adventure travelers every year.

SEE: Full Screen Slideshow

There are dozens of other towns along this section of the border, forgotten, struggling, where residents claim they’re forced in some cases to break the law to survive.

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