UAPD urges students to play it safe in Mexico

By Lisa Rich
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, January 13, 2006

The upcoming three-day weekend is a popular time for students to head south to take advantage of the lower drinking age in Mexico, but common sense should not be left at the border, officials said.

When students go to Mexico without taking safety precautions, they're more likely to become targets of crimes like theft and sexual assault, said Sgt. Eugene Mejia, University of Arizona Police Department spokesman.

The worst case UAPD has heard of was two years ago when a female student was separated from her friends and taken to a house where she was drugged and sexually assaulted before being released, Mejia said.

Though this case was extreme, it's more likely to happen to students who travel alone or stray from social areas, and the dangers increase when a person is influenced by alcohol, said Anthony Skevakis, dean of students.

Though the temptation to drink may be high because the legal drinking age in Mexico is 18, it does not mean a person's tolerance is any different, Skevakis said.

"If you have five beers in Tucson and you're on the floor, it won't change in Mexico," he said.

And it can lead to more than a hangover, said Tina Tarin, violence prevention specialist with the OASIS center.

Alcohol also impairs a person's judgment and ability to remember and may hinder a person's physical ability to protect himself, Tarin said.

But if you go to Mexico and plan to drink, it's important to watch your cup because the accessibility of date-rape drugs could be higher, Tarin said.

"That leads to an increase in drug-facilitated rapes," Tarin said. "The drug can take detailed memories away and the evidence of it being in the system doesn't last very long."

Another precaution students should take before heading south is researching the difference in the laws, because the rules aren't always the same, Skevakis said.

"You're no longer allowed to walk around outside on the streets with alcohol," Skeavkis said. "That's a big change."

And when students violate the law in Mexico, they're subject to its judicial system, which, for students in the past, has ranged from being cited to being arrested, Skevakis said.

In one case, a student was mugged and later arrested for not having ID, Skevakis said. Before he could be released, the Mexican Consulate had to call the university to confirm he was a student.

"We've also had students ask for money back home," he said.

And having a little spare money while in Mexico isn't a bad idea either, said Albert Kamkhagi, a psychology senior.

When Kamkhagi and a group of friends went to drink and party in Nogales, Mexico in fall 2004, he said a police officer pulled his friend aside and began yelling at him in Spanish, and said he was taking his friend to jail.

"But then my other friend offered him money and the cop said OK," Kamkhagi said. "We gave the guy $20 and that was it - we went back home."

Though this may have worked for some students, it won't work for everyone, Skevakis said.

"If you're thinking about doing something and it kind of sounds stupid, it probably is and you shouldn't do it," he said.

And while drinking may sound like fun, Mejia said underage students should remember they will be cited if they come back to the U.S. under the influence of alcohol.

"Once they cross back into the U.S., they are subject to American law," Mejia said. "It doesn't matter if they're not driving, but just for having it in their system."