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Border Control with Songs?
Special Contribution
By Domenico Maceri
Mexidan-American women

Last year the Mexican government published a manual which aimed to discourage people from crossing the border illegally but at the same time provided survival tips to those determined to attempt the dangerous journey. Now the US Border patrol is trying a similar tactic as it attempts to keep Mexicans in their country.

An advertising campaign in Spanish which includes songs and videos has been prepared and will be broadcast primarily in Zacatecas and Michoacan, since a lot of immigrants have historically come from these two states.

Will it work to stop or even reduce border crossings?
The answer is probably in the negative because the attraction of El Norte is much too strong.

The huge disparity in wages between Mexico and the US is a highly motivating factor in making the trip north. Since the average daily wage in Mexico is about 5 dollars a day, an amount one can easily make in an hour in the US, it's easy to understand why people cross the border.

Of course, the availability of minimum wage jobs in the US serves as a strong incentive to come. Even if the dangers of making it across the border are real, most people attempting it will eventually succeed. In the last ten years or so the trip has become more difficult and the use of a smuggler costing about $2,000 has become a necessity.

That has not stopped or reduced the number of crossings. The ads which the US Border Patrol plans to run include songs and videos and aim to plant a seed of doubt about making the journey. The focus is on the dangers. The story of one of the songs even includes "voices" of dead migrants and their vanished dreams.

The songs make use of ranchera music which has historically dealt with many themes including the exploits of revolutionaries, cowboys, and outlaws.

Messages may work to reduce border crossings if they include information about the availability of jobs. Soon after 9/11 the American economy was in the doldrums. Word spread quickly and apprehensions at the border went down considerably as people decided it'd better to be unemployed at home instead of another country.

Clearly, the motivation for crossing the border is jobs. If American companies did not hire undocumented workers, illegal immigration would disappear overnight.

Yet, America's hunger for cheap labor has become an addiction. There is clearly work Americans will not do at very low wages. If somehow salaries in agriculture went up to fifteen or twenty dollars an hour and included benefits, American workers would probably materialize. But even at those wages Americans would make "demands" and expect to be treated well.

Undocumented workers, on the other hand, are in a very vulnerable position and their uncertain immigration status makes them very "cooperative."

So while some politicians rail about closing the border, companies hire people and say it's not their responsibility to check if job applicants have valid legal papers or fake ones.

In 1993 the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was passed which cut trade barriers among the US, Mexico, and Canada. The record has been mixed, but certainly some companies in these three countries gained from the legislation. Yet, Mexico's economy has not improved as one can see from the increased illegal immigration in the last decade or so.

The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) has narrowly been approved in Congress. It will expand NAFTA to Central America.

Very little has been happening, on the other hand, to enable people to move from one country to another to seek work and sell their services. But then, undocumented workers have no lobbyists to create laws favorable for their situation.

So the US Border Patrol makes some TV and radio spots which are supposed to slow down if not stop illegal border crossings. A mere Band-Aid for a serious operation.

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Domenico Maceri, Ph.D., UC Santa Barbara, teaches foreign languages at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, CA. His articles have appeared in many newspapers including Los Angeles Times, Washington Times, Japan Times, and The Seoul Times. Some of his stories won awards from the National Association of Hispanic Publications.






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