Growing violence discourages people from crossing border

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Despite ongoing turbulence in Mexico, biology junior Javier Vargas regularly crosses the Texas-Mexico border to visit family members who cannot cross into the U.S. Border regions like Reynosa, where Vargas’ family lives, continue to suffer the consequences of drug-related violence.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

Despite concerns over Mexico’s drug war and increased border security, many people with family and friends across the border still choose to make trips between the U.S. and Mexico, said a UT student with family in Mexico.

Mexico’s turbulent situation has increased scrutiny by Customs and Border Protection officers for many travelers, said Javier Vargas, a biology junior who who crosses the border several times a year to visit his relatives. Since 9/11, CBP has taken many proof-of-identity-travel-initiatives for people entering or leaving the U.S. along its various ports of entry.

CBP-Laredo spokesman Richard Pauza said over the years CBP has streamlined the process by which the travelling public is processed on the border with new technology and better training. CBP processes an average of 3,500 privately owned vehicles and more than 6,000 walking pedestrians a day at the various bridges in the border city of Brownsville alone, Pauza said.

In order to avoid delays and interrogation, Pauza said he recommends that travelers obtain one of the standard documents outlined in the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. The policy requires all persons to present a preapproved form of identification such as a valid passport, U.S. passport card, Trusted Traveler Programs card or an enhanced driver’s license.

UT alumna Maria McKenzie said she stopped travelling to Mexico five years ago because she was concerned about the shootings and kidnappings happening across the border. McKenzie, an English adjunct professor at UT-Brownsville, said UT-Brownsville’s mere minute proximity to the border city of Matamoros, Mexico has caused her fear on many occasions. She said she once smelled gun powder walking through campus.

“I have walked on campus and I have been afraid,” McKenzie said. “You never know who’s going to be walking through campus. A lot of our own students say they feel the violence from Mexico is already on our side.”

Tania Chavez, a communications graduate student at the UT-Pan-American, said she used to travel to Mexico relatively often but stopped because of the violence on the border. Chavez said during one of her trips she thought a traffic accident had taken place, but later found someone had thrown a grenade on a public transportation bus.

“It is more difficult to cross the border now, and that is why I have stopped crossing,” Chavez said. “I am always scared something will happen at the bridge.”

She said the violence has affected the economy in both cities as well and that her family’s restaurant in Reynosa, Mexico saw a 60 percent decline in sales because people were afraid to cross.

Chavez said it is harder to cross now than it was before and there is always a threat. Even the checkpoints are not safe from the violence.

Vargas is used to the passage from Edinburgh, Texas to Reynosa, Mexico, but he said he has mixed feelings about travelling to Mexico, especially for people who aren’t used to it. He said he recommends people be careful about the clothes they wear, avoid big crowds, take older cars, never go outside at night and try to hide the fact they’re U.S. citizens.

“It all boils down to being at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Vargas said. “But I wouldn’t discourage it because I believe the more people are aware of the situation in Mexico, the more help can be given.”

Printed on Wednesday, January 25, 2012 as: Border crossing concerns grow