Border Project gains national recognition

    The San Diego-Tijuana Border Project, which targets college-age students in an effort to reduce cross-border underage and binge drinking, was designated a national Model Program by the Center of Substance Abuse Prevention for 2002.

    The Border Project, primarily funded by the County of San Diego, was one of 30 outstanding substance abuse programs recognized this year amongst 200 reviewed for their work in reducing and preventing drug and alcohol abuse.

    “”All communities struggle to fight the incidence of underage drinking,”” said supervisor Greg Cox, whose district represents the Tijuana border crossing. “”But here in San Diego County, we have the added challenge of our proximity to the international border with Mexico, where the legal drinking age is 18.

    “”[Through the Border Project], the County of San Diego has committed to working with our community partners to reduce the negative consequences of cross-border drinking, and we have begun to see success.””

    Every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights, thousands of young Americans cross the border to attend downtown Tijuana nightclubs, where they dance, socialize and consume inexpensive alcoholic beverages. Large portions of these club-goers are San Diego college students.

    “”Obviously, students can’t legally drink when they’re 18 or 19 in America,”” said Michelle Haft, a Muir sophomore. “”But when they cross the border, they’re often so excited about drinking legally that they get carried away.””

    The problem of underage and binge drinking in Mexico is a unique issue for communities along the southwest United States border.

    Differences in alcohol policies, such as drinking age (18 years of age in Mexico and 21 years of age in the United States) and the standards of enforcement of American and Mexican laws regarding alcohol consumption have contributed to prominent public health and safety problems on both side of the international border.

    On any weekend night, over 1,400 United States teenagers and adults cross the border into San Diego too intoxicated to drive legally.

    As a result of cross-border partying, many students experience health problems, including injuries, sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, violence and vehicle crashes caused by excessive drinking — both in Mexico and once arriving back in San Diego County.

    “”College students don’t seem to understand that Tijuana is [in] another country,”” Haft said. “”If they make a mistake in TJ, it’s much more severe. When people are drunk, they aren’t thinking normally, and mistakes are even easier to make.””

    The border project addresses the complex problems associated with cross-border drinking, including two languages, several cultures, and numerous layers of federal, state and local government agencies on both sides of the border.

    Both public health and safety components are incorporated to permanently reduce alcohol-related crime and violence.

    The project has facilitated increased awareness of cross-border problem-solving and more than 300 news stories over the past year.

    Increased law enforcement operations have also been put into effect. Law enforcement officers from both sides of the border have been checking IDs of young-looking border crossers, enforcing public drunkenness laws, detaining severely intoxicated pedestrians, performing crowd control strategies and intervening in other alcohol-related crimes, especially DUI occurrences.

    Not everyone supports the measures imposed by the project. James Powell, a Warren senior, feel strongly about the issue.

    “”I think the drinking age should remain 18 in TJ and should be 18 here, too,”” Powell said. “”If I’m old enough to vote and die for my country, why shouldn’t I be able to drink? … It’s all about the principle of the thing.””

    For project supporters, however, results have been favorable. Since the Border Project was established in 1997, there has been a 37- percent reduction in late-night border crossers with a blood alcohol concentration at or above .08.

    In addition, there has been a 26- percent reduction in the overall number of late-night border-crossers on combined Friday and Saturday nights. There was also a decrease in the number of DUI fatalities in the San Diego-Tijuana Border region, from 23 fatalities in 1999 to five in 2000.

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