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Page last updated at 12:03 GMT, Sunday, 15 February 2009

US uses songs to deter immigrants

By Carlos Ceresole
BBC Mundo, Los Angeles

Poster saying every day three people die on the border but it is never the people smuggler
Three people die every day on the border, this poster warns

They are the new secret weapon of the US Border Patrol: toe-tapping ballads with Spanish lyrics that tell of the risks of trying to cross illegally into the US from Mexico.

The songs are on a CD that has been distributed free to dozens of radio stations in northern Mexico as part of a campaign called "No more crosses on the border" - a reference both to the illegal crossings and to those who have lost their lives in the attempt.

The songs are all tragic, giving accounts of abuse, rape and death as immigrants embark on the often dangerous journey.

In one, called The Biggest Enemy, a singer called Abelardo from the Mexican state of Michoacan and his cousin Rafael set off to cross the border.

They reach the US but nature defeats them, as they wander the desert without water. Exhuasted they lie down with Abelardo waking later to find his cousin dead by his side:

"He decided to come back/ And have a burial in their town/ And as a vow/ He told his dead cousin/ If God will take my life/ That it be in my beloved land."

The songs are part of the genre of traditional Mexican "corridos", popular narrative ballads whose themes range from love to war.

Mexico's drug gangs also have their own songs known as "narcocorridos", which praise the traffickers' heroism and their often violent deaths.

La migra

Given the popularity of corridos, the US government is now using the same kind of music to get its message across.

The CD is called "Migracorridos" - which suggests the US Border Patrol is happy to use "la migra", the Spanish term used to describe, almost always in a derogatory way, US immigration agents.

"The important thing is that we reach (people) with this message and are able to save as many lives as possible," Eugenio Rodriguez Jr, spokesman for the US Border Patrol in Laredo, Texas, told BBC Mundo.

Disco de migracorridos
The CD is being played by dozens of Mexican radio stations
"Many of those who arrive at the border and try to cross...They don't know what awaits them."

The "coyotes" - as people smugglers are also known - just see the migrants as objects, says Agent Rodriguez.

"They take their money, they exploit them, they abandon them in the desert… what we try to tell them is that this is not worth it, they should think about their families. "

This theme is explored in one of the songs, Respect.

A young man who tries to reach America "to become someone" gives an account of his own death - and that of his friends.

The "pollero", the trafficker smuggling them across the border for a fee, runs away, leaving them locked inside the truck in which they were being transported to suffocate:

"To cross the border/ He put me in the back of a trailer/ There I shared my plight/ With another 40 immigrants/ Nobody ever told me/ This was a trip to hell."

Maximum impact

The US Border Patrol commissioned the CD from Elevacion, a Washington-based Hispanic advertising agency.

Elevacion's president Jimmy Learned told BBC Mundo that the songs had been well received by the public.

US Border Patrol agents look for illegal immigrants  the Santa Maria area beside the Rio Grande river in Halinger, Texas
A drop in illegal immigration in 2008 is down to various factors

"People started to call the stations, to ask for the songs… interested in finding out who are the singers or the band. I even think that one of the songs was nominated for an award in Mexico," he said.

The fact that the migracorridos were commissioned by the US Border Patrol has not been publicised.

Mr Learned and Agent Rodriguez both said this was to avoid rejection and make sure the campaign had the maximum impact.

Jose Luis Gasca, director of operations at La Zeta, a radio station in Morelia, Michoacan, told BBC Mundo that he did not know where the songs - which are often played on his station - came from. But he said he thought they were suitable for his listeners.

"They encourage people to become aware of the risks of crossing the border...something that often leads to disaster," he said.

Measuring success

Official figures from the US Border Patrol show that in 2007 there were 876,704 arrests, 398 deaths and 1,847 rescues along the US-Mexican border.

The 2008 figures are: 723,825 arrested, 390 dead and 1,263 recued.

The decrease in all categories, albeit it small in the number of deaths, is likely to be explained by

  • the economic recession in the US, meaning fewer people are attempting the crossing
  • more border agents
  • better infrastructure and deterrent technology.

It is still too early to assess the effect of the migracorridos.

As Mr Learned says, "We are not trying to sell anything, but to save lives."

He says another two songs are expected to be released in April and that the campaign could be extended to the rest of Mexico and Central America.

"The important thing is that the campaign has found a niche in the community," Mr Learned said.

"If we manage at least to get people to think twice before they throw themselves into undertaking such a risk, that's already a success."



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SEE ALSO
Slowdown hits Mexico remittances
27 Jan 09 |  Business
Heading back across the border
18 Dec 08 |  Americas

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