Worries about conflicts in Europe and the Middle East have been growing over the past few months. Now, there’s recent news about the risks of traveling to a destination much closer to home.

The U.S. Department of State recently issued a travel warning advising U.S. citizens against traveling to certain places in Mexico on Jan. 19. The warning cited a rise in U.S. citizen deaths due to encounters with organized crime factions. Some of the dangers listed were “violent crimes, such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking and robbery by organized criminal groups in various Mexican states.”

Citizens already residing in Mexico were encouraged to stay away from casinos and gambling events. That especially goes for places like these in the states of Coahuila, Durango, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosi, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Jalisco, Colima and Nayarit.

For more specific regional information such as road conditions and additional safety precautions, the Department of State urges residents to check their Country-Specific Information page.

An important note: organized crime in Mexico is not a new problem.

Mexico’s struggle between its government and local organized crime factions is long in the making and regularly reported in the U.S. Actor Sean Penn’s recent Rolling Stone piece detailing his bizarre interview with fugitive drug lord “El Chapo” has been plastered over news cycles for weeks. The U.S. Government has been restricting government employees’ travel to Mexico since 2010, and Department of State had even already issued a warning about Mexico on May 5, 2015. This latest warning is more of an update on an ongoing conflict.

That conflict has arguably had a noticeable impact on where students choose to study abroad. According to the Institute of International Education, until recently, the number of U.S. students studying abroad in Mexico had been dropping. Nearly 10,000 U.S. students studied in Mexico in the 2007-2008 school year. That number gradually chipped away, falling as low as 3,730 reported in the 2012-2013 school year.

But the most recent data from the Institute, the 2013-2014 school year, shows a spike in U.S.-Mexico student travel. A total of 4,445 students traveled there that year – an increase of 19.2 percent.

Not every trip to Mexico is a death sentence; not by a long shot. The Department of State qualified the 103-person death toll by giving a broader perspective. In spite of the danger in some areas, millions of U.S. citizens visit Mexico safely every year, and as many as 150,000 or more cross the border daily. The Mexican government is taking measures to protect tourists, and so far, there’s “no evidence that organized criminal groups have targeted U.S. visitors or residents based on their nationality.”

That being said, the number of U.S. citizen murders in Mexico has risen in recent years from a total of 81 in 2013 to 100 in 2014. The deaths are showing no signs of flagging. The total for last year plateaued at 103.

As old as the organized crime surge in Mexico is, the situation is constantly changing. Students and institutions of higher learning need to adapt accordingly. Conflicts all over the world evolve, wax, wane and migrate from place to place, and the more a student knows before going abroad, the better his or her chances of coming home safely. ClearCause is dedicated to helping students make informed decisions about travel and form memorable, positive experiences abroad.
Visit the United States Department of State travel website for up-to-date global information, and follow ClearCause’s blog for updates on making studying abroad safer.