Presidio city officials tackle transmigrante traffic congestion

PRESIDIO — As traffic at the Presidio Port of Entry ramped up during the holiday season, there were a number of close calls as vehicles attempting to enter Mexico and vehicles headed on U.S.-67 toward Marfa tried to maneuver around large trains of transmigrante vehicles staged on the shoulder. Mayor John Ferguson took to social media to field citizen concerns. “If you see these long lines in Presidio, please drive carefully,” he wrote. 

Transmigrante traffic — part of a special program that allows passage through Mexico for merchants selling used cars and other goods in Central America — has grown since the program was implemented in 2021. Big Bend locals may recognize the transmigrantes on the highway as passenger vehicles towing other passenger vehicles, often hauling used appliances and tools as well. 

With that growth, Presidio city officials have tried to navigate the unique challenges of playing host to the long trains of vehicles processed through the port. The traffic issue is emblematic of larger communication issues that have sprouted up between the City of Presidio, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), TxDOT and the Mexican officials responsible for issuing individual permits to the transmigrantes. 

Before the program came to Presidio, the only port designated for transmigrante traffic was Los Indios, just upstream from Brownsville on the Texas side and Matamoros on the Mexican side. Routing some of that traffic through Presidio and Ojinaga was touted as a way for truckers to avoid violence and unrest in the state of Tamaulipas, but Presidio city officials say they weren’t involved in the process of selecting the alternate route. “This sort of just landed in our laps,” Ferguson said. 

When the program was first implemented, customs officials on the American side set basic guidelines for how they would handle each vehicle’s crossing into Mexico. They limit crossings between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Monday through Friday, and ask individual brokers to send units of around ten at a time. “The staging area is not really controlled by us,” explained Roger Maier, a spokesperson for CBP. “The way that we process has not changed since we began the program.”

Anecdotally, Ferguson has noticed that the traffic seems to ramp up toward the end of the year as non-commercial traffic increases with folks going back and forth for the holidays. Other than that, he has few ways of anticipating heavy traffic and advising Presidians to avoid hazards in advance. “It comes and goes in waves,” he said. 

After the mayor’s social media post, City Administrator Pablo Rodriguez sprang into action. There are four lots for transmigrantes outside of city limits managed by different brokers — essentially truck stops, with places for the drivers to park, shower and rest before the long journey through Mexico. Rodriguez tracked down as many folks as he could to get the transmigrantes’ side of the story. A manager at SAD, the largest transmigrante lot in Presidio, could not be reached for comment.

Safety was his top priority — not just for the people of Presidio. “The [transmigrantes] themselves are risking injury,” he said, citing a story from one resident about a driver who opened his door past the white line of the shoulder and jumped down to check on something just as another vehicle was blazing past. 

Rodriguez’s next course of action was checking in with Municipal Judge Viviana Cataño to make sure it was legal to start ticketing vehicles on the shoulder for blocking traffic, should they linger too long or back up too far. 

Maier noted that — at least from the perspective of CBP — the threat of tickets from the local police department prompted drivers to wait until receiving the green light from Customs officials. “At issue recently was that transmigrantes were lining up early in the morning at the staging point and beyond,” he explained. 

Though the problem seems to have been alleviated with the end of the busy season, both Rodriguez and Ferguson want to make sure similar issues don’t crop up again in the future — there’s been discussion of lowering the speed limits between the edge of town and the port of entry on U.S.-67, as well as bringing the issue before City Council. “We’re going to do what we can for our citizens and for people coming through,” Rodriguez said. “Everyone deserves to feel safe when they’re traveling through [Presidio] to Mexico.”