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State Dept. issues Mexico travel alert

Liz Harter | Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Students planning to travel to Mexico over Spring Break may want to take note of a travel alert issued by the United States State Department on Feb. 20.

The Associated Press reported there is an increased risk of violence and kidnapping, especially near the U.S. border, but the alert also warns citizens traveling or living throughout Mexico to be vigilant.

The alert said “dozens of U.S. citizens have been kidnapped across Mexico. Many of these cases remain unsolved.”

The heightened violence stems from a fight between the drug cartels and the government for control of narcotics trafficking routes into and out of America, according to the alert. Some cartels have employed automatic weapons and grenades, the alert said. Firefights have also broken out in northern cities like Tijuana, Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez, which have trapped U.S. citizens.

The AP reported the State Department also issued an advisory on Spring Break in Mexico.

The Department warns of the increased violence along the border and advises revelers in Matamoros and Nuevo Progresso, popular destinations for spring breakers on South Padre Island, Texas, to “exercise common sense precautions such as visiting only the well-traveled business and tourism areas of border towns during daylight and early-evening hours.”

Both Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s have sent e-mails to the student body to publicize the alert.

While some travelers may not take heed of the warning offered by the State Department, fourth-year architecture student Danny Morales had to.

Morales, along with fellow fourth-year architecture student Andrew Gim, planned a service trip to Mexico for themselves and 14 of their fellow classmates that has since been cancelled.

While the service project is not an official School of Architecture program, Morales said the School was heavily involved in managing the budget and providing support for the trip, which had been planned since Fall Break.

“The trip got cancelled a couple of weeks before the warning got sent out,” Morales said. “A couple of concerned parents called to ask about the safety precautions of the trip so Andrew and I had to apply through the Office of International Studies [OIS] in order to determine whether the trip was safe enough for the group to go.”

Morales said the University declined their application, though, so the trip had to be cancelled, even though the group had solicited funding from various sources.

“It caught me off guard because I went on the same trip twice before and we had no problems,” he said. “Honestly, Mexico has always had this problem of drug cartels fighting for control, but recently it became much worse and much more publicized.”

While OIS said it cannot comment on specific applications, Ray Pelligrini, the Office’s budget manager, said each application is reviewed on a case by case basis.

“Any group of undergraduate students traveling to another country [in a capacity] somehow connected to Notre Dame must be approved by either our office or the provost office,” he said. “It could be Canada, it doesn’t matter what country it is.”

The group or individual traveling must submit an application to OIS, and if there are no travel warnings or alerts in the country of travel, the application can be approved, he said. But if there are warnings or alerts, OIS or the provost’s office will review the application.

“Sometimes [approval or denial] depends on the exact location they’re traveling to, why they’re going or what organization they are with,” Pelligrini said.

Morales said it’s too late to try to organize a different trip as a group, but hopes the group will be able to go to Mexico next year.

“We will come back to Mexico next year depending on the violence, but if it gets worse we will search for a safer location to do our service project,” he said. “People that have donated to our trip will have the option to get their money back or put it towards a trip next year.”