Mexico violence claims two more US citizens on increasingly perilous border

The Monitor's bureau chief in Mexico recalls when Americans thought nothing of crossing the border for a taco or inexpensive dental work. Those days are over.

By , Staff writer

Back in 2005, when our former Latin America bureau chief visited Matamoros on the US-Mexico border, she found Americans unfazed by increasing violence. US citizens still opted to ignore US advisories in favor of cheese enchiladas, Mexican trinkets, and cheap prescription drugs.

By the time I came onto the job, just about a year later, border life was still bustling, but people were starting to question whether getting something like a cheap root canal in Mexico was actually worth the risks of crossing into the country.

Now comes news that two Americans have been shot at the border in Tijuana on their way to work. The incident is not a rarity: foreigners get killed along the border, and throughout Mexico, each year.

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It is unclear what the motive was in this case. Details will be forthcoming. But at face value, the idea of two US citizens killed during their morning commute will only make more Americans reticent to seek a “Mexican” experience south of the border.

Sergio Salcido Luna and Kevin Joel Romero were reportedly shot several times in the pickup truck they were driving. The US press is reporting that the two had opted to live on the Mexican side of the border for personal reasons, including saving money on housing.

Their employer told the San Diego Union-Tribune that both men had worked at a Californian beverage company for about 1 and 1/2 years. “They were good guys,” he said. “I don’t think they were dealing drugs, selling drugs, or anything to do with drugs. They were both very hardworking individuals. They had a zest for life.”

Reporter Sandra Dibble offers more details about the case, including a statement by Attorney General Rommel Moreno Manjarrez who said one of the victims had a small packet of drugs on him and that his office was investigating whether the homicides were drug-related.

No matter, this case has the potential to scare off Americans more than others – especially cross-border commuters who once claimed their border was being unfairly portrayed.

US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said as much in their April 4 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, "The Southwest Border is Open for Business."

"Unfortunately," they wrote, "there is a widespread misperception that the Southwest is wracked by violence spilling over from Mexico's ongoing drug war. The facts tell a different story. Some of America's safest communities are in the Southwest border region, with crime rates in cities along the border staying steady or dropping over the past decade.

"... Yet local leaders in the region tell us that the misinformation about safety and security at the border threatens this progress. It drives potential visitors away, hurts local businesses, and simply does not square with the fact the Southwest border region is one of the safest parts of the country."

I agree with that. But I am not sure I can say the same for northern Mexico. My father lives in San Diego and years ago stopped crossing to Tijuana. At the time I thought he was another unfortunate victim of sensationalist news.

About two years ago, a photographer and I visited Mexico's border town of Palomas and the nearby New Mexico town of Columbus to see how much violence was really “spilling” into the US.

We didn't find much violence, but we did find residents on the US side who had stopped crossing the border for their dental work and daily dose of tacos. Palomas was a ghost town. Its best-known restaurant was virtually empty – no Americans there doing the “Mexican thing.”

My opinion then, as I sat there typing away on my laptop, was that people were overly paranoid.

These days, I definitely would not sit in a Palomas restaurant with my computer, a telltale sign of a journalist on the road. I would probably even think twice about the way I visit my dad, which was always via Tijuana. I might possibly take the more expensive seven-hour route through Phoenix.

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