Presidio-Ojinaga port scheduled to open for transmigrante traffic next week

PRESIDIO — Transmigrantes will be able to cross from the United States to Mexico through the Presidio-Ojinaga port of entry for the first time beginning early next week, according to plans announced in January in Mexico’s official government publication, the Diario Oficial de la Federación. Though little has been officially communicated to Presidio County and Presidio city officials, they are nevertheless bracing for the changes that may come to Presidio and the Highway 67 route that passes through Marfa.

Transmigrantes are individuals permitted to transport vehicles, appliances and other goods from the United States, through Mexico and into their country of origin. When they arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border, they often wait around 72 hours for documentation and inspections that will allow their passage through Mexico.

Local brokers and officials in Presidio have heard that the route for transmigrantes could open on March 22 or 23. While the city scrambles to prepare, some private landowners are already constructing parking facilities where transmigrantes can wait for their paperwork to clear.

Currently, travelers are only allowed to enter Mexico through a port in the South Texas town of Los Indios, but long-standing rumors that Presidio would become a transmigrante port have caused Presidio city and county officials to worry. Those concerns range from an increase of traffic through town to the city’s current lack of proper parking, lodging or amenities for these short-term visitors.

Additionally, officials in Los Indios and transmigrantes themselves have speculated there may be links between having a route for transmigrantes to move valuable goods and an increase in crime or cartel violence in the area.

At a Presidio County Commissioners Court on Tuesday, Commissioner Eloy Aranda urged the county to begin considering whether they would want to regulate transmigrantes or related parking projects. He planned to alert the Sheriff’s Office and local police that the change could be coming soon and would bring many new travelers along with it.

“We don’t have any regulations like the city does,” Aranda said, asking commissioners to start thinking about what they will do as the changes begin.

Locally, Presidio City Council began work to regulate transmigrantes in 2017, finalizing an ordinance in 2019 that put major prohibitions on where transmigrantes were allowed to park in Presidio while awaiting proper documentation to enter Mexico.

The ordinance prohibits car camping on public state roadways, local streets, alleys, vacant lots, parks, industrial parks or out in the desert, without an approved city-issued permit. Instead, it allows parking in either city-owned, transmigrante-designated parking lots or in private lots that have gotten approval from the city. Those private locations must have commercial or industrial zoning and proper city permits, the ordinance says. It also requires those commercial parking lots to have proper paving, eight-foot-high opaque fencing, security lighting, locked and controlled access, and liability insurance.

The city’s discussions to build their own city-controlled designated parking area have not come to fruition, but local private landowners inside and outside of Presidio city limits have begun work to develop their own properties into parking areas for the travelers. Private parking lots outside the city limits will not face the stringent requirements of the city ordinance.

Presidio’s interim city administrator, Brad Newton, said this week that multiple property owners along US Highway 67 are planning or actively developing parking lots that cater to the transmigrantes. He added that the city has not issued any building permits at this time.

Presidio Mayor John Ferguson said that, while the city had discussed building a parking lot of their own to try and manage the new coming travelers, the city is not going to be involved with the currently developing parking lots “in any shape or form.”

Aranda worried about those properties at the county commissioners court meeting on Tuesday.

“There’s no water out there, no sewer system,” he said.

“It’s private land and the owner is clearing out the land,” Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara said about one parking lot that is underway on Highway 67. “I really can’t go question [the landowner] until they start requesting permits for water, electricity, septic tanks or so forth.”

At the Tuesday meeting, Guevara shared that new construction on Highway 67 by the Texas Department of Transportation would help alleviate traffic on the mostly two-lane road between Presidio and Marfa. A 1.2 mile stretch near Cibolo Creek Ranch would be expanded to four lanes to allow truck traffic, transmigrantes and private cars to pass each other more safely.

Mayor Ferguson doubted whether transmigrantes would immediately switch their routes to use the port in Presidio instead of the one in Los Indios. “I’m guessing initially the numbers are not going to be real big, but I don’t think we can necessarily say that it couldn’t eventually get quite a bit busier down here,” Ferguson said.

The mayor said he was informed by a Mexican broker that transmigrante passage will be authorized through Presidio on March 23, while the interim city administrator lamented the lack of communication. “We haven’t gotten anything officially in writing that the transmigrantes are coming. It’s all hearsay,” Newton said.

“We told them we’re not ready, but that’s fallen on deaf ears,” Newton said. “But we’ll wait until the 22nd and see who shows up.”