City devises transmigrante parking lot in case travelers are rerouted through local port

Rumors from the Mexican side of the port of entry have sparked a new concern for Presidio: transmigrante traffic.

PRESIDIO – Presidio County has always kept an eye on the commercial traffic flowing north from Mexico, from the proposal to include local roads in the U.S.-Mexican trade route “La Entrada al Pacífico” to TxDOT’s recent U.S. 67 corridor study and freight plan. But rumors from the Mexican side of the port of entry have sparked a new concern for Presidio: transmigrante traffic crossing into Mexico on its way to Guatemala and beyond.

Transmigrantes are usually Central American nationals collecting salvage vehicles, furniture, bicycles and appliances in the U.S. to transport and sell in their home country. On their journeys home, the U.S. port inspects the goods and checks for vehicle identification numbers to make sure the salvage vehicles are not stolen. The process takes three days.

The Mexican government at the U.S.-Mexico border also applies stringent requirements, assessing the transmigrante’s caravan of goods and cataloguing it into a manifest, to make sure they make it to the Mexican-Guatemalan border with the same inventory.

For the last twenty years, Los Indios has been the only town with an approved transmigrante route, and over 100,000 transmigrantes pass there per year. On one day, 137 transmigrantes arrived, but on another, 1,496 vehicles came to cross.

Presidio City Administrator Jose “Joe” Portillo said at a county meeting on November 8 that as rumors swirled about Presidio-Ojinaga becoming a new route for some, or all, of the transmigrante traffic, it was time for Presidio to begin planning.

The potential policy change would come from the Mexican government, not the U.S.-side of the port, so local Presidio officials have struggled to determine if or when these changes would be implemented. Rumors have said either 70 percent or 100 percent of transmigrantes could be rerouted from Los Indios to Presidio.

Portillo said the proposal to change was spurred on by violence in Tamaulipas across the border from Los Indios. Transmigrantes have been been assaulted on their way south to Guatemala and beyond. South of Presidio, the roads are better and there is less violence along the path.

Presidio Mayor John Ferguson visited Los Indios to speak with local officials about how they handled the increased traffic through the area. He saw private parking lots “all over the place” and many businesses that catered to the needs of the Guatemalan business travelers.

During the county meeting in Presidio, the mayor said, “Los Indios has a designated bridge that crosses to Mexico that is used strictly for this type of traffic. We’ve got visitors, vacationers, commercial businesses, the daily traffic.”

One solution the city has devised is a municipally-owned parking lot, where travelers waiting for approval to cross could park their caravans and wait. The city could charge a fee, and provide a safe, well-lit area with covered awnings, bathrooms, showers and parking. Portillo said law enforcement would be welcome to inspect there and that the city would work in lockstep with the port of entry.

The city has a property in mind for the facility: 61 vacant acres already owned by the City of Presidio. Portillo envisioned shuttle services to the store and back, and taco trucks owned by locals, parked and profiting from the travelers who await their approval to cross into Mexico.

In Los Indios, many of those lots were operated privately. Portillo asked the county to join the city in passing an ordinance that would create strict requirements for transmigrante parking.

An ordinance drafted by County Attorney Rod Ponton would “essentially ban these commercial and export vehicles from Presidio unless they’re parking in a commercial lot that we don’t have, or in a city lot.” The migrants are also be forbidden from parking in the county, through a county resolution that was passed at the November 13 county meeting.

Presidio doesn’t currently have private lots that would meet the ordinance’s standards for transmigrante parking: a paved lot with opaque fencing and adequate lighting.

Portillo said at the November 8 meeting that the city could control the traffic by pushing them into a better place that was controlled, healthy and sanitary, while still allowing them to do their business.

Commissioner Buddy Knight questioned if Portillo was against privately owned parking facilities springing up if they comply with the ordinance’s requirements, but Portillo said he didn’t want to say he was for or against it.

“Would I be open to the idea of a private parking lot doing this? No. I’d rather the city have and maintain all of the traffic.”

Mayor Ferguson told the county, “If we can manage it in a way these people are coming through, the city can actually make a little badly needed revenue from the activity.”

He asked County Judge Cinderela Guevara to help Presidio get the resources and assistance from politicians to manage the change should it come. He told the judge, “Right now we’re still feeling like we’re on our own.”