Crossover Appeal: Border Patrol Uses Music to Cross a Cultural Line

By Ashley Surdin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 15, 2009

To its arsenal of agents, fences and stealthy sensors skirting our nation's southern border, the U.S. Border Patrol may soon add another weapon in the fight against illegal immigration: a follow-up album.

Yes, as in CD. With singers, guitars. Accordions.

In what may be among the lesser-known deterrents exercised by our nation's security forces, the Border Patrol is deploying up-tempo Mexican folk songs about tragic border crossings to dissuade would-be illegal immigrants. 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. Its title, its makers say, is intended to mean "songs of the immigrant" but "migras" is commonly understood as a code word for Border Patrol in much of Mexico.

The first CD of five songs was recorded in 2006 and distributed over the past two years. Another CD in the works is scheduled to be ready by May. There are also tentative plans for a collection of similarly themed songs with styles of music more geared toward would-be illegal immigrants from Central America.

Many of the stations in Mexico that play the songs and the listeners who request them are seemingly oblivious to who is behind the bouncy ballads of death, dashed dreams and futile attempts at manhood.

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")

"It's pretty slick," says Jason Ciliberti, a spokesman with the Border Patrol in Washington.

The music is part of the Border Safety Initiative, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's push to squash smuggling and increase safety along the border. As part of that effort, the Border Patrol launched "No Mas Cruces en la Frontera," a campaign aimed at educating communities with many potential illegal immigrants about the dangers of crossing.

Illegal immigrants can encounter severe hazards on their journey: professional smugglers and bandits who beat, rob, rape and abandon them; bitingly cold or scorching temperatures; snakes, scorpions; drowning; and death by dehydration or exhaustion.

"No Mas Cruces en la Frontera" (which means both "no more crossings on the border" and "no more crosses on the border") has primarily relied on newspaper, television and billboard ads. In one poster, men walk in a line, with some of their shadows showing as crosses rather than bodies. In another, someone has collapsed in a seemingly endless desert. "Before crossing to the other side," the poster advises, "remember that the burial plots are full of the valiant and the macho."

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