Photo by descamarado.
While funneling more than $1.4 billion into barricading the U.S.-Mexico border with electric fences, vehicle barriers, and 6,000 National Guard troops under the purview of the Bush administration, the U.S. Border Patrol also began a more artistic approach to intercepting the flow of job-seeking nannies and busboys from Mexico in to the U.S. The agency is now doubling as an international record company, producing corridos [up-tempo Mexican folk songs] about tragic border crossings and distributing them to Mexican radio stations in a weak — albeit creative — attempt to dissuade their listeners from crossing the border without documents.
Corridos are Mexican folk ballads that usually serve as lyrical accounts of love, betrayal, murder, and drugs. Often lurid and based in real-life experiences, many scholars refer to corridos as “the literature of the rural poor: pulp nonfiction.” According to the Washington Post, “The agency has paid — how much, it won’t say — a D.C.-based advertising company to write, record and distribute an album, ‘Migra Corridos,’ to radio stations in Mexico.” Some of the lyrics are as follows:
Before you cross the border, remember that you can be just as much a man by chickening out and staying
Because it’s better to keep your life than ending up dead.
– “Veinte Años” (“20 Years”)
The Border Patrol’s musical venture is part of a larger Border Safety Initiative started in 2004 by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in an attempt to increase safety along the border. As part of that effort, the Border Patrol launched “No Mas Cruces en la Frontera,” or “No More Crosses on the Border.” The $450,000 TV and radio campaign, which is aimed at educating potential undocumented immigrants about the dangers of crossing the border, is also based on the notion that the decision to enter the U.S. illegally is driven more by emotions and machismo, and less by economic need.
Yet, while the “bouncy ballads of death, dashed dreams and futile attempts at manhood” are currently popular among Mexican radio-listeners, there’s a slim chance that they will do much to stem the influx of undocumented immigrants. Research has consistently found that undocumented immigrants are well aware of the many risks they face in crossing the border, but are not deterred from leaving hometowns with few economic opportunities in order to fill available jobs in the United States. In fact, 91% of migrants know that crossing the border is “very dangerous,” and nearly one-quarter know someone who has died while crossing. Yet they cross anyway out of what they perceive to be economic necessity.
There’s a better chance that the popularity of the Border Patrol’s music debut is due to the personal ties that every Mexican has to U.S. immigration and the tremendous need for immigration reform. Immigration reform would divert economic migrants from the deserts to safe and regulated ports of entry. It would also help cripple the smugglers by taking away much of the lucrative trade in human beings, which has escalated to broader and more violent criminal activity that make it more dangerous to live on both sides of the border. The U.S. Border Patrol may be thinking out of the box, but it once again misses the mark when it comes to common-sense solutions to U.S. immigration.