WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has begun running ads in Central America meant to stop people from leaving their native countries and heading for the U.S.–Mexico border.
The ad campaign, launched this week by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), is meant to dispel rumors in Central American countries about U.S. immigration policy, especially for children, who have crossed the border in high numbers in recent months.
Additionally, deep in the Obama administration's request for $3.7 billion to address the ongoing crisis at the border, is a second, relatively small sum. The $5 million State Department request would "support State Department media campaigns in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, targeting potential migrants and their families," according to White House fact sheet on the larger supplemental budget request announced earlier this week.
State Department representatives haven't responded to multiple requests for comment on what the ad campaigns might look like. But the Border Patrol campaign offers insight into the kinds of messages the United States wants to get out in Central America.
The CBP ads, called "The Dangers Awareness Campaign," are primarily in Spanish and are posted to an online repository.
The CBP says the ads are focused on delivering three messages:
1. The journey is too dangerous;
2. Children will not get legal papers if they make it.
3. They are the future—let's protect them.
There's also a major focus on explaining that children sent to America illegally do not get to stay.
The message from the U.S. government on immigration is clear—if you cross illegally into the U.S.:
- you cannot earn a path to citizenship;
- you are not eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA;
- you will not get papers that allow you to stay; and
- you are putting yourself, or your child, in danger.
The ads are appearing for 11 weeks on "hundreds of billboards" and in "6,500 public service announcements for radio and television stations in the target countries," according to the CBP.
At a July 2 press conference, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said the ads were aimed at stopping border crossing before it starts. The dangers described in the campaign are real, he said, and said 226 would-be immigrants died making the trip to the border since October.
A CBP spokesperson told the Harlingen, Texas, Valley Morning Star that the ads are meant to counter the seductive claims of coyotes, who take thousands of dollars from poor families with the promise of a life in the U.S. for their young relatives.
"We want a relative that is about to send $5,000, $6,000 to a relative in El Salvador to see this message and say, 'Oh my god, they're saying that the journey is more dangerous,'" CBP spokesperson Jaime Ruiz told the paper. "We try to counter the version of the smuggler."
The storyline in this ad, from the Valley Morning Star:
"[The ad] shows a teenage boy preparing to leave home for the U.S. His mother pleads with him not to go. He confides to his uncle — already in the U.S. — in a letter that she’s warning him about the dangers of the gangs on the train that immigrants ride through Mexico, the cartels that kidnap and the dayslong walk in the desert. Ultimately, he writes his uncle, 'he who doesn’t take a chance, doesn’t win.'
The next image is of the boy dead on the cracked desert floor. A voiceover says smugglers’ claims that new arrivals will easily get papers are false. The television and radio spots all finish with a similar parting message: 'They are our future. Protect them.'"