'Simple rules' can help visitors avoid police trouble in Mexico

By Joseph Altman Jr.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 19, 1996

Going to Mexico for spring break? Don't bring guns, large amounts of alcohol, or an attitude. That's the advice from officials at Immigration and Naturalization Services and the American consulate in Hermosillo, Sonora Mexico.

William Douglass, vice-consul and 1988 University of Arizona alumnus, said allegations of abuse by Mexican police are extremely low, but travelers can avoid police trouble all together by following a few simple rules.

"One big tip," Douglass said, "don't carry any type of firearm across the border. That is a felony in Mexico and they treat it very seriously."

Marco Martinez, district training officer for the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Nogales, added that there are restrictions on the amount of alcohol that can be taken into Mexico.

"(Students) should restrict whatever they're taking to small amounts," Martinez said. "It's not a good idea to drive around with bottles in the car - they'll arrest you for that."

The worst problems INS sees during spring break, Martinez said, are at night when students come to Nogales, Sonora to drink.

"We see a lot of problems," Martinez said. "You have to be careful how you talk and act around the Mexicans. If you scream and yell at Mexican girls, the Mexican men will not like that at all."

Martinez said he has seen people being chased across the border by Mexicans wielding stones and 2-by-4s.

He also advised visitors not to walk out of a bar with drinks in their hands.

"You will get arrested," Martinez said.

But the most dangerous part of traveling in Mexico is avoiding highway bandits, Martinez said.

"Be very careful if you get pulled over," he said. "They could be bandits posing as police officers."

Martinez said it is sometimes difficult to discern between legitimate officers and bandits, who often have police I.D. because they may have been recently fired by the police department.

"If it's a marked vehicle, they should stop," Martinez said. "If it's an unmarked vehicle, I hate to tell them to run, but try to drive further down the road to a gas station or a ranch where there are witnesses."

Douglass said the United States is currently advising visitors not to travel through the Mexican state of Sinaloa at night. The last six hours of the drive to Mazatlan is through Sinaloa, he said.

Douglass said reports of highway robbery in Sinaloa prompted the U.S. Department of State to issue the warning against night travel. However, he said that recently there have not been any reports of bandits along the highways.

In the case of being pulled over by a legitimate police officer, Martinez said, "The best way to deal with them is stand firm and tell the officer you are an American citizen and you want to know why you are being pulled over.

"But don't push it from there," he said. "They're looking for a bribe, but it's not a good idea to offer one or they'll try to get more out of you."

If someone is actually arrested in Mexico, Martinez said, it is important to call the American consulate or call a relative who can get ahold of the consulate.

But Douglass said people need to understand the consulate will only ensure that no mistreatment occurs; it cannot provide an attorney or defend the arrestee.

"People arrested in Mexico are subject to their legal process," he said.

Martinez said it is important for people to let a relative know exactly where they are going and what routes they will be taking. That way, if a traveler does not arrive in a particular place at a certain time, the relatives will look for him.