Are Your Kids Safe South of the Border?

U.S. State Department and colleges have issued warnings for college students.

ByJim Avila, Rich Mchugh, Kelly Hagan and Sarah Netter via via logo
February 27, 2009, 7:20 AM

Feb. 27, 2009— -- The beach towns of Baja California, Mexico, are warm, cheap and come with a lower drinking age -- all the needed ingredients to make the just south-of-the-border peninsula an attractive spring break destination.

But increased violence in Mexico has led the U.S. State Department and some American colleges to warn students to be careful everywhere, not just in border towns.

Megan Campbell, a freshman at Arizona State University, is getting warnings from home as well.

"My mom called me today and said, 'I don't want you to go. You have to be careful,'" she said. "She is very worried about it."

Marc Hamilton, also an ASU student, changed his plans after all the warnings.

"It's best not to go down there right now," he said. "Even with a large group of people, it's not a certainty you are going to be safe and able to have as much fun when you have all these problems going on around you."

Arizona's other state university, the University of Arizona in Tucson, is one of the colleges specifically asking its students not to spring break in Mexico

The State Department travel advisory says, "The greatest increase in violence has occurred near the U.S. Border," but warns, "Mexican and foreign bystanders have been injured or killed in violent attacks in cities across the country," and "in recent years dozens of U.S. citizens have been kidnapped across Mexico."

Keeping a Low Profile

More than 100,000 American students travel to Mexican resorts during spring break each year. Despite the violence that has included attacks far from the border in Cancun and a grenade explosion in Acapulco, tourism was up last year, with most of the nearly 20 million Americans returning home safely.

"It's a little scary to hear about killings, murder in Mexico, specifically Cancun," said University of Texas student Amy Holland. "But since we already paid for it, we are going to go and we are going to have fun. But we are going to be responsible."

The Mexican government says the violence has peaked, and if you stay clear of drugs and the war over them, you are not in any real danger. Much of the violence there is criminal-on-criminal.

Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said that "nine out of 10 people" who have been killed in this latest spate of violence have been tied somehow to organized crime.

San Diego FBI Agent Keith Slotter has been telling parents for nearly a year that college kids have generally not been targets, but adds that they should be told to keep a low profile and be aware of their surroundings.

"You just need to up it a notch, not be oblivious and watch what is going on around you," Slotter said.

And maybe there's one more thing to take into account, according to spring breakers who partied in Mexico last year and made it home safely -- call mom and dad often. They are worried.

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