January 9, 2005
Last month, the Mexican government published and distributed a comic book-style pamphlet offering advice to those who cross its border illegally into the United States.
About a million people a year make the journey.
The booklet, "Guide for the Mexican Migrant," drew fire in the United States from members of Congress and groups that favor tightening immigration laws. These critics called the 31-page publication a how-to manual for illegal immigrants that encourages people to break U.S. laws.
Mexican officials said distributing the guide was similar to providing information about AIDS to illegal drug users. In this case, they were simply trying to save lives by recognizing that people are crossing the border in large numbers and that some die horribly along the way. At least 300 people died trying to sneak into the United States last year.
Among other warnings, the government cited the risks of being victimized by "polleros, coyotes or pateros" – in English, chicken herders, coyotes and duck herders – slang for those who smuggle migrants across the border.
Excerpts from the booklet, translated from Spanish, follow.
This guide is meant to give you some practical advice that could be useful if you have made the difficult decision to seek new labor opportunities outside your country.
The safe way to enter another country is to obtain your passport from the Mexican Foreign Ministry, and a visa from the embassy or consulate of the country to which you wish to travel.
Still, in practice we see many cases of Mexicans who try to cross the northern border without the necessary documents, traveling through dangerous terrain, which includes deserts and rivers with strong and sometimes invisible currents.
By reading this guide, you can also find out about basic legal issues concerning your stay in the United States of America without the appropriate immigration documentation, as well as about the rights you have in that country, once there, regardless of your migratory status.
Always keep in mind that there are mechanisms so that you may enter the United States of America legally.
Crossing the river can be very risky, especially if you cross alone and at night.
Heavy clothing grows heavier when wet and this makes it difficult to swim or float.
If you cross the desert, try to walk during hours when the heat is not so intense.
Highways and towns are very spread out, so it will take several days to find roads and you will not be able to lug food or water for such a long time; you can also get lost.
Drinking water mixed with salt will help to replace lost body fluids. Although you will feel thirstier, there is a much lower risk of dehydration if you drink salt water.
If you get lost, use power lines, train tracks or dirt roads as guides.
They may try to fool you with assurances that they will take you across in a few hours through mountains or deserts. This is not true! They can risk your life leading you across rivers, irrigation canals, desert zones, train lines or high-speed highways.
If you decide to resort to "polleros," "coyotes" or "pateros" to cross the border, consider the following precautions:
Do not let him out of your sight; remember that he is the only one who knows the terrain and, therefore, the only one who can lead you across.
Distrust anyone who offers to take you to the "other side" and asks you to drive a vehicle or carry a package for him. Those packages often contain drugs or other prohibited substances. For this reason, many people have ended up in prison.
If you transport other people, you could be confused with a "pollero" or "coyote," and they can accuse you of smuggling people or stealing a vehicle.
DO NOT USE
If you try to cross with false documents or ones that belong to another person, keep in mind the following:
Using false documents or those of another person is a federal crime in the United States, for which you can be tried and sent to prison; the same is true if you use a false name or say you are a United States citizen when you are not.
IF YOU ARE DETAINED
Don't resist arrest. Don't assault or insult the official.
Don't throw stones or objects at the official or at the patrol car, as this is considered a provocation of the officials.
If the officials feel assaulted, it's probable that they will use force to detain you. Raise your hands slowly so that they see that you are unarmed.
Don't run or try to escape.
Don't hide in dangerous places. Don't cross high-speed highways.
It is better that they detain you for a few hours and repatriate you to Mexico than that you get lost in the desert.
YOU HAVE RIGHTS!
Your rights are:
To know where you are.
To ask permission to communicate with a representative of the nearest Mexican consulate, so that you can get help.
To refuse to make a declaration or sign documents, especially if they are in English, without the advice of a lawyer or a representative of the Mexican consulate.
To receive medical attention if you are injured or sick.
To be respected and treated well, no matter what your migrant status.
To be transported in a safe manner.
To have water and food whenever you need it.
Not to be hit or insulted. Not to be held incommunicado.
To ask for a receipt, so you can reclaim your belongings if they are taken from you.