The University has suspended University-sponsored student travel to areas in northern Mexico due to the increasing fighting between Mexican drug cartels in the region, according to an e-mail sent to the University community yesterday.
The University’s International Travel Oversight Committee has reviewed travel security in states including Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Sonora, Durango, Sinaloa and Baja California, where violent incidents have occurred in the last few months. After its inspection, the University decided to suspend travel to these areas.
The U.S. Department of State announced a travel warning in March to inform citizens of the risks of traveling to areas in northern Mexico — specifically cities like Tijuana, Nogales, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey and Matamoros — which have experienced an increase in crimes and violence.
John Godfrey, chair of the University’s International Travel Oversight Committee, said the violence has risen to such a level at the border that it is now “extremely dangerous” to travel in the area.
“We’ve read State Department reports and spoke with council officers in Mexico, and on the basis of that review, we’ve decided it is too dangerous for students to go on University-sponsored activities,” Godfrey said.
Much of the violence stems from ongoing fights between drug cartels that are vying to control drug trafficking routes.
“This has been going on for a number of years, but in recent months the head of one cartel was killed in the fight and another was arrested, and now they’re fighting for control of the territory,” Godfrey said.
According to Godfrey, the areas are “unstable” and “unpredictable” — citing large fires in the middle of the day and an instance where two mechanical engineering graduate students from the Technological Institute of Higher Learning of Monterrey were shot to death during crossfire between Mexican soldiers and drug gangs.
The State Department’s travel warning is effective until May 12. University students may still travel to central and southern Mexico for University programs.
However, undergraduates must have their trip approved by their dean or an advisor and must submit a consent form signed by a legal guardian. University faculty members planning to lead a student trip in central or southern Mexico must also obtain approval from their dean.
According to Godfrey, the travel ban has caused two student groups that were planning to visit Mexico in May and June to make new trip arrangements. One was a bus trip that planned to start its tour in Mexico City and then continue into northern Mexico. The other — a Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates group, which takes University students on trips abroad — was planning to visit both sides of the Mexican border. The GEIU group will now stay in Tuscan, Az.
Godfrey said the travel ban will continue indefinitely until the situation improves.
“That’s anyone’s guess as to how long that will be,” Godfrey said. “For the near term it looks like it will remain unstable. There is very little that is predicable now.”
According to the State Department travel warning, more than 2,600 people were killed just in Ciudad Juarez in 2009. Mexican officials also report that there were more than 16,000 car thefts and 1,900 carjackings the same year.
The University last issued a travel ban to Mexico in April 2009 when the H1N1 virus first surfaced. The University then lifted the travel restrictions in May, which Godfrey said was because the virus moved into the United States.
As for the current travel ban, Godfrey said the University is going to keep an eye on the situation.
“We’re going to watch it closely and when it resolves itself we’ll lift the suspension,” he said.