Sure - there's been a lot of bad press lately about visiting the border towns of Mexico. And the truth is, a lot of bad things have happened. From murders to muggings, kidnappings to forced ATM withdraws, visitors to many Mexican border communities have become victims of street crime in recent months, so much so that the U.S. State Department is warning travelers to beware before crossing international bridges into Mexico for a day of shopping, dining and perhaps a little dancing.
The naked truth is, the same types of crimes are taking place in cities on this side of the border as well. Just turn on the news and you'll hear about hundreds, thousands of Americans victimized in such familiar locations as Houston, Dallas, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. In fact, you might be surprised at the number of Mexican Nationals who fall victim to such evil crimes on North American soil during their visit to the States.
The Tragedy of International Crime
That's not to say the criminal incidents are tolerable - on either side of the border. Regardless where you are or where you're from, it's a tragic thing to become a crime victim - at home or on the road.
But what makes international crime incidents seem so much more sinister is that, generally, the victim is a 'stranger in a strange land,' without command of the language, the customs or the procedures for reporting and dealing with such circumstances. To add to that, it's easy to blame local law enforcement officials for 'not doing their jobs,' or not providing enough security.
Then - to make matters even worse - an often over zealous media in the United States can't wait to focus on such tragedies because they make good headline stories.
To put it all in perspective, visitors crossing into border towns can become and sometimes are the victim of crime. It's unusual and rare indeed that tourist are caught in the crossfire of Mexican police and drug traffickers gunning it out on the street. Can it happen - yes. Does it happen - yes, in both Mexico and the United States. But it's very unlikely.
More likely, if a crime is to take place, it will be in the form of a mugging or forced robbery of your wallet and valuables. Generally speaking, once the robbery is complete, the victims are released unharmed.
Of course there are exceptions, but to fear to cross over the border is probably taking measures to the extreme. Of course, it you want to be absolutely certain crime doesn't happen to you, then by all means, stay at home. But for those that still have an adventuring spirit, being prepared and well informed about the dangers is probably all the planning you need to make your visit enjoyable and safe.
Choosing Your Destination
Probably the best way to avoid trouble is to stay as far away from it as possible. If you're looking for a day of shopping and fun across the border, select your destination carefully. For example, Nuevo Progreso seems to have less trouble of this nature than most border communities. Perhaps the community is more visitor friendly because there are less bad guys that operate there. Perhaps it's just the luck of the draw.
While I wouldn't personally rule out Reynosa or Matamoros as a travel destination, I would agree that Nuevo Progreso 'feels safe.' Of course there is still crime. There is everywhere. But there seems to be a successful community effort there to protect U.S. visitors. However, after visiting with officials from both Matamoros and Reynosa, I am convinced these communities are also expending manpower and budgets to curtail crime in their cities.
The bottom line to personal safety when traveling is using good judgment and common sense. Anticipate the dangers and keep yourself off of dark, deserted streets; stay away from high crime areas; be aware of the various types of crime that are the current fad; hang with large crowds, especially fellow visitors; and most of all, if you fall victim to a scam or a crime, remain level headed and remember the objective is to escape with personal injury. You should, of course, report all incidents to local authorities as well as to U.S. authorities upon your return.