Mexico is no longer off limits to the California State University system's 23 campuses and 437,000 students.
In lifting CSU's 2011 ban on student travel to Mexico, Chancellor Timothy P. White said violence "has declined during the past year and is unevenly distributed geographically."
White's letter to California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez noted that the U.S. State Department's "Travel Warning to Mexico" now provides specific regional advisories, rather than a blanket warning for the whole country.
"In view of the findings, my staff will evaluate, on a case-by-case basis, requests for student programs and academic-based travel to Mexico to areas that do not have an advisory in effect," White said. "We look forward to re-establishing and strengthening our partnerships in Mexico in the coming months."
Before the ban, hundreds of CSU undergraduates and bilingual-education teachers went to Mexico every year to sharpen their language skills and immerse themselves in Mexican culture and politics.
The reopening of Mexico to the CSU system was applauded by professors, state legislators and Sacramento's Mexican Consul General Carlos González Gutiérrez as well as Cien Amigos Sacramento Mexican American leaders who lobbied the chancellor to loosen the restrictions.
"College students in both California and Mexico are going to spend their professional careers in societies that are greatly integrated," González Gutiérrez said. "They will be critically disadvantaged if they don't know and understand each other. The re-establishment of student exchanges with Mexico is not only the right thing but the smart thing to do."
He said California has a big deficit of bilingual teachers and the state's immigrant population is growing. "Our teachers must go to Mexico and be trained to serve the indigenous populations in Oaxaca and other communities they'll be dealing with in California schools."
There are 4.4 million Mexican-born immigrants in California, and nearly 1.2 million Spanish-speaking English language learners in California public schools.
Before the ban, CSU Sacramento had sent about 200 student teachers to Mexico in recent years, said Nadeen T. Ruiz, professor emerita of the Bilingual Multicultural Education Department. "They had to learn academic content in Spanish, and the empathy they gained prepared them to teach all English language learners," Ruiz said.
Sacramento State plans to ask the chancellor to reopen its exchange programs with universities in Guadalajara and Mexico City, said spokeswoman Kim Nava.
In 2007, before CSU started placing restrictions on student travel to Mexico, there were 22 Sacramento State students studying there, Nava said.
Undergraduates can also benefit from a few weeks in Mexico, said Teresa Carillo, chair of Latina-Latino Studies at San Francisco State University. "We'd visit human rights groups, clinics and fair trade organizations, and my students were inspired by the difference a handful of Mexican community organizers can make," Carillo said.
Steinberg and Pérez had asked CSU to loosen the ban after Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on California-Mexico Cooperation aired the subject last fall.
"As California's No. 1 trading partner, Mexican states should be considered on an individual basis," Correa said. "CSU, by changing its policy, has opened the doors to allow our students and future leaders to pursue opportunities to better understand the U.S. and Mexico's shared heritage and culture."
Cien Amigos, a volunteer group of community leaders in the Sacramento region, brought the issue to Correa, noting that the UC system had approved travel to Mexico on a case-by-case basis.
State Department travel advisories "focus mainly on hot spots," said Cien Amigos chairwoman Melinda Guzman, a former CSU trustee. "They're not intended to justify an all encompassing, multiyear nationwide ban on California-Mexico student and faculty academic exchanges."
The chancellor's office has already reopened its exchange program with the Queretaro Technological Institute in Monterrey, Mexico.
Any CSU campus that wants to send students to a region not under a travel ban can submit a proposal to the chancellor's office, said CSU spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp.
Call The Bee's Stephen Magagnini, (916) 321-1072. Follow him on Twitter @stevemagagnini.