Due to the ongoing drug trafficking and violence in Mexico, the bureau recommends U.S. citizens to defer non-essential travel.
“Every six months or so, we update the travel warnings, so the update we just did [for Mexico] was redesigned for clarity,” said Elizabeth Finan, spokesperson for the BCA. “It has a state-by-state assessment that has information on security conditions in each region. We also added a map to the warning to help travelers locate where they’re going to be going.”
Finan advises travelers to avoid the border states. In addition, she said there are currently 14 Mexican states that require citizens to be more vigilant.
The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) strongly advises spring breakers not to travel to Mexico. In a press release, the department stated rape and sexual assault continue to be serious issues in resorts, and the number of Mexican states to avoid increased by four since 2011.
“The Mexican government has made great strides battling the cartels, and we commend their continued commitment to making Mexico a safer place to live and visit,” said Steven C. McCraw, director of DPS. “However, drug cartel violence and other criminal activity represent a significant safety threat, even in some resort areas.”
The travel warning gives advice on each state in Mexico, although there are also states with no travel advisories.
“Generally, the resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico don’t see the levels of drug-related violence and crime that are reported in the border region,” Finan said.
Travel.state.gov states that the crime and violence occurring throughout the country have led to U.S. citizens falling victim to Transnational Criminal Organization activities such as homicide, gun battles, kidnapping, carjacking and highway robbery.
“The number of U.S. citizens reported to the Department of State as murdered in Mexico increased from 35 in 2007 to 120 in 2011,” the BCA stated on travel.state.gov.
The travel warning for Mexico is a reflection of the travel policy that has been in effect since July 15, 2010 for official U.S. government employees and their families, Finan said. They are prohibited from personal travel to places designated as “defer non-essential travel.”
As of now, there are travel warnings for 31 countries. Finan said depending on the school, some schools won’t have study abroad programs in places the Department of State has warnings.
According to University of California (UC) spokesperson Brooke Converse, students who are traveling out of the country for UC matters – business, research or community service – are typically notified beforehand of any risks in the countries they will be visiting.
“Travel warnings are a reflection of a security assessment made overall in a country,” Finan said. “They can be issued for civil war, an unstable government, frequent attacks, as well as intense crime and violence.”
Finan said the number-one thing the BCA recommends is enrolling in a program called the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP.
“We always encourage students and regular travelers alike, when you do go to Mexico, there are certain steps you can take to stay safe while you’re there,” Finan said. “STEP is one component: what this does is helps us get in touch with you in case of an emergency.”
U.S. citizens enrolled in the program with an e-mail address will occasionally receive messages from their respective embassies or consulates regarding information about security.
“We recommend that students enroll themselves and they can receive the information directly from us,” Finan said. “I just want to emphasize that if you travel to Mexico, to please read the travel warning carefully, locate the state you will be traveling in, educate yourself on the security situation in that state and then additionally, educate yourself on the laws and regulations in Mexico or any country.”
CLAIRE TAN can be reached at email@example.com.