Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Consulate General Nuevo Laredo does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED NUEVO LAREDO AS BEING A CRITICAL-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Please review OSAC’s Mexico-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.
A consistent level of violence and persistent security concerns have prompted the U.S. Department of State to urge U.S. citizens to defer unnecessary travel to many parts of Mexico, including the border regions of Tamaulipas and Coahuila. The Department of State advises U.S. citizens in those areas to exercise extreme caution. U.S. government personnel are prohibited from traveling overland into the interior of Mexico from the Texas border, except for those instances that have been deemed essential.
While violence and kidnappings rates did not increase in 2016, the overall security environment did not substantially improve. The absence of a municipal police force, the inability to form a reliable, vetted sate police force capable of maintaining law and order, and an inconsistent presence of federal forces remain glaring signs that Nuevo Laredo, and Tamaulipas in general, remains a volatile security environment.
Since 2006, the Mexican government has engaged in an extensive effort to combat Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs), especially along the border with the U.S. Mexican TCOs have been engaged in a struggle with each other for control of lucrative drug trafficking routes. In order to prevent and combat violence, the government of Mexico has deployed military troops and federal police throughout the country. The vast majority of those killed have been members of TCOs and, to a lesser extent, the federal forces who are fighting them; however, innocent bystanders have been killed in shootouts between TCOs and Mexican law enforcement and between rival TCOs. The presence of TCOs and the movement of large sums of money through the area have had a decaying influence on civil institutions at all levels. The corruption of police and rule of law officials has been the most serious concern.
Violent crime (kidnappings, extortions, homicides, sexual assaults, personal robberies, residential break-ins) and non-violent crimes (financial scams, vehicle thefts, petty drug crimes) continue to be a serious concern in Tamaulipas. In 2016, firefights took place throughout the consular district, including in Nuevo Laredo and Piedras Negras. Gun battles generally occur after dark, but there have been some in broad daylight, on public streets, and close to public venues.
The situation in northeast Mexico remains fluid; the location and timing of armed engagements cannot be predicted. If travel cannot be deferred, travelers should exercise extreme caution. Travelers should carry a working cell phone with coverage in Mexico and should know where to go in case of an emergency. All visitors are encouraged to make use of hotel safes when available. Avoid wearing jewelry and carry a clutch purse or a neck purse instead of a shoulder bag. Carry a wallet in the front trouser pocket or front jacket pocket. Never leave shopping bags or merchandise unattended. Do not advertise that you are American. Americans are not targeted due to their nationality, but may be perceived to have wealth or valuables worth taking.
Travelers should stick to well known, well-populated routes, avoid traveling at night and travel with a buddy when possible. Travelers are advised to avoid known high crime areas (Zona de Tolerancia (red light district)) and bars/clubs favored by narco-traffickers. Travelers should be prepared to depart an establishment when they feel at risk.
Theft of a vehicle's sound system is a common crime. The installation of a car alarm is strongly recommended.
Be unpredictable in your movement; vary your routes and times. Be alert to possible surveillance: Note any individual who appears out of place along your routes. Avoid sitting outside at restaurants. Instead, try to find a seat in an area not clearly visible from the street.
Vet potential domestic employees to the greatest extent possible. Ensure that they are trained to not volunteer information to strangers and to not allow access of workers without prior authorization. Diplomatic Security advises against providing keys to residences to household staff.
U.S. citizens should be cautious when using ATMs. Cloning/counterfeiting of ATM cards and credit cards occurs, and travelers are advised to check their account activity to detect fraudulent charges early. Visitors are advised to avoid using ATMs in dark/isolated areas. It is recommended that visitors on day trips use ATMs in Texas prior to crossing into Mexico; U.S. dollars are widely accepted.
Other Areas of Concern
U.S. citizens are urged to be especially aware of safety and security concerns when visiting the border region.
Official Americans living in Nuevo Laredo are under travel restrictions and a curfew from 2400-0500. All adult entertainment centers (“Boys Town”) and casinos are off-limits to U.S. government personnel.
Due to the insecurity of many highways, travel between Nuevo Laredo and cities in the Consular District is primarily by returning to the U.S., traveling along the border, and re-entering at the nearest port of entry.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Road safety is an area of particular concern. Travelers should defer unnecessary travel on Mexican Highway 2 between Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo and from the Columbia International Bridge crossing west toward Piedras Negras due to reported violence. Travel outside of Piedras Negras and Ciudad Acuña is discouraged due to the lack of law enforcement presence. Criminals have followed and harassed U.S. citizens traveling in their vehicles in these areas.
Continued concerns regarding road safety along the border have prompted the U.S. Embassy/Consulates to impose restrictions on U.S. government employees transiting the area. Since July 2010, Embassy/Consulate employees and their families have not been permitted to travel by vehicle to/from any post in Mexico.
All highway travelers should avoid travel at night, especially along highways connecting major cities. Use toll roads when possible, plan routes ahead, and notify family/friends of your itinerary. Travelers are advised to keep a charged cell phone with them and to know how to reach friends and family in an emergency. Travelers should ensure they use road-worthy vehicles and maintain a full-size spare tire in case of a flat. The highways, cuotas and libres, are generally well maintained between major cities and towns, but their isolation leaves travelers vulnerable to crime. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”
Park inside a residential compound, in a parking lot with an attendant, or at least within view of the location of your visit. When parking in a lot of a shopping facility, park as close as possible to the store entrance and away from dumpsters, bushes, or large vehicles.
Public Transportation Conditions
Within cities, taxis are generally considered safe. It is recommended that travelers negotiate the price before boarding since meters are not used.
City buses are best avoided due to their crowded nature, lack of safety equipment, and vulnerability to being robbed. U.S. government personnel are prohibited from utilizing public transportation.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED NUEVO LAREDO AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
There is no evidence of transnational terrorists residing or transiting this region; however, the nature of the border and the ready access to human smugglers and fake documents continues to make this area a potential transit point for international terrorists.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED NUEVO LAREDO AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Large-scale civil unrest is uncommon. The few protests that have occurred have been small and peaceful. Most protests are local in nature and do not pose a threat to U.S. citizens. Even when protesting U.S. policies, demonstrators appear to be a careful in distinguishing between U.S. policies and the American people at large.
Heavy rains can lead to localized flooding and widespread power outages, but these are normally remedied within hours. Officials sometimes remove manhole covers in order to speed the evacuation of standing water. These are often not adequately marked and can lead to road hazards. The city has made great efforts to improve its drainage system, but it has yet to be tested by serious rainfall.
There is an agreement between the municipalities of Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, signed in 2016, that provides mutual emergency disaster assistance.
Industrial accidents are fairly rare, owing to the isolation of the manufacturing areas from the city proper and the routing of HAZMAT to more distant bridge crossing points. The city maintains civil emergency personnel, but their training and equipment are sub-standard in comparison to most major U.S. cities.
The highway between Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo has undergone construction in certain areas and this, combined with the lack of proper lighting and poor road conditions, has led to major accidents and even deaths. Construction is expected to continue throughout 2017.
The security threat posed by TCO-related violence remains the most significant concern in the area. Firefights between Mexican federal forces and TCOs have occurred over the past several years.
- In April 2010, a grenade was thrown into the Nuevo Laredo Consulate compound, causing physical damage but no casualties.
- In February 2013, RPGs were fired within one block of the Consulate amidst a running gun battle through the city.
- In October 2015, gun battles occurred within blocks of the Consulate compound on major thoroughfares.
- In 2016, the majority of the violent incidents occurred to the west of the downtown area (poniente).
Gun battles may occur at any time, as rival TCO gunmen engage in hit-and-run attacks and as military and federal police encounter TCO gunmen while on patrol. Since the escalation in TCO violence began, the government of Mexico has significantly increased the number of troops and federal police in this region. Soldiers and federal police are frequently seen on patrol throughout the city. The U.S. Consulate advises U.S. citizens to give these convoys a wide berth, as TCOs have engaged them without regard to civilian casualties. Travelers are advised to remain cautious and to identify potential safe havens if violence breaks out. Maintaining communication with travelers is critical in case of an emergency.
Corruption stemming from narco-trafficking remains and has affected service levels delivered by some state and local governments.
FBI 2016 statistics for kidnappings in Mexico place the state of Tamaulipas as the region with the highest rates and risk of kidnapping in the country. The government of Mexico’s federal statistics rate Tamaulipas as number one in total kidnappings, a record held for three consecutive years. In many of instances, the victim was released after being kidnapped, and then they reported to the Consulate that they were beaten, tortured, and threatened while held. The overwhelming majority of kidnappings/abductions are directly or indirectly related to cartel activity.
Kidnappings have included traditional, express, and virtual kidnappings, and they remain a serious, growing problem.
Victims of traditional kidnappings are physically abducted and held captive until a ransom is paid.
Express kidnappings are those in which a victim is abducted for a short time and forced to withdraw money, usually from an ATM, then released.
A virtual kidnapping is extortion by deception, wherein a victim is contacted by phone and convinced to isolate themselves until a ransom is paid. The victim is coerced (by threat of violence) to remain isolated and to provide phone numbers for the victim's family or loved ones. The victim's family is contacted and a ransom is demanded. Some travelers staying at hotels as guests have been targets of virtual kidnapping schemes.
Police corruption and police involvement in criminal activity, which are widely reported on, continue to be a problem in Mexico. Ccitizens are often indifferent to police authority, adding to the sense of lawlessness. The general perception is that the majority of crime victims do not report crimes against them due to fear of reprisals by the police, the belief that police are corrupt, or the feeling that nothing would come from such reports. Local and state police are generally underpaid and poorly trained in comparison to U.S. counterparts. Reporting crime can be an archaic, exhausting process and is widely perceived to be a waste of time except for the most serious of crimes or when a police report (denuncia) is required for insurance purposes. Should a denuncia be required for an insurance claim, a nominal fee will be charged.
In July 2011, the municipal police force in Nuevo Laredo was disbanded among allegations of large-scale corruption. A local police force has not been reconstituted. The duties of the local police have been assumed by a state police force and federal and military police. The state police force (Policia Estatal Fuerza Tamaulipas) began deploying to Nuevo Laredo in late 2013 although there are concerns with the lack of vetted officers being hired. Policing is supported by both the army and federal police within the city. All security forces conduct regular patrols throughout Nuevo Laredo.
U.S. citizens are advised to cooperate with the police and military if stopped or questioned. If involved in a traffic accident or victimized by crime, you may be required to accompany the investigating officer to the local police station or state prosecutor’s office to file a complaint or respond to questions.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
American citizens who are detained or harassed by government forces may seek assistance at the Consulate. A Consulate Duty Agent is available 24-hours a day by phone. It is particularly important to identify which agency was involved. A description of the vehicles and uniforms would be helpful. Being able to accurately describe what occurred, the time, date, location, and which agency was involved will greatly enhance the Consulate’s ability to reach a satisfactory result from the complaint.
Crime Victim Assistance
American citizens in need of assistance due to crime or medical emergencies may call the U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo and speak to the American Citizen Services (ACS). Travelers should contact the ACS for assistance in dealing with the police or military (the phone numbers are listed below). The police emergency telephone number is 911.
The local, state, and federal governments are organized similar to their U.S. counterparts, but law enforcement capabilities within these jurisdictions vary greatly.
The emergency line is 911. Nuevo Laredo medical facilities offer adequate care in an emergency or if getting to the U.S. is delayed.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
The following hospitals have ambulances available: