While airports in some of the country's largest cities prep for millions of holiday travelers packing their terminals, thousands of Mexican nationals and descendants avoid air travel and instead head south to Mexico to be with their extended families in an annual journey that even includes escorted security.
The holiday traffic of "paisanos," or countrymen, is a familiar sight at the Laredo, Texas, entrance to Mexico. From noon Friday through Saturday evening, 785 paisanos had made use of a holiday rest stop set up on Interstate 35 southbound 13 miles from the border, the Laredo Morning Times reported.
The rest stop includes refreshments and Mexican consular officials to help with visas and passports.
Laredo Convention and Visitors Bureau manager Blasita Lopez clocked the paisanos heading south. She told the Times that the traffic this year is on a par with last year, when about 2,000 people checked through in a 48-hour span.
Cars, trucks, sport utility vehicles and recreational vehicles displaying license plates from as far away as North Dakota and Georgia lined up at the rest stop.
Norma Villa is heading south from North Dakota to Mexico City, where she has four sons the rest of her family doesn't know. She said her husband in Mexico has already warned her about what lies ahead.
"He said the police will stop me every so often. They see the license plates are not Mexican, and they think it's a good chance to get something out of you," she told the newspaper.
That and the well-publicized drug wars in northern Mexico leave her uneasy, she said.
"We're having escorted caravans to out in order to provide safety in numbers," she said. Mexico's National Civil Protection System began providing the escorts two years ago in response to the escalating crime rate along the highways of northern Mexico.
The escorts convey the travelers as far as Mexico's inspection station 26 kilometers (16 miles) inside the country. "From there, federal police plan to lead caravans into the interior," Lopez said.
Travelers tend to arrive in Laredo at night, spend the night and get in line around dawn the next morning to cross into Nuevo Laredo, Mexico "so they have daylight when they drive in Mexico," Lopez said.
The rush is making motel rooms and, in some cases, fuel scarce. Lopez appeals for understanding from Laredo residents.
"It's understandable people get annoyed with the traffic, but there's great economic benefit to the city," she said.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.