Monday, March 16, 2009

Migracorridos: La Migra's latest weapon

The Washington Post had an article this weekend called "Crossover Appeal" about the US Border Patrol's creative use of "migracorridos" -- traditional Mexican ballads with lyrics aimed at deterring illegal border crossing. The first 5-song CD was issued in 2006 and a new album is planned for this spring as well as a similar advertising offensive geared to other Central American countries. The songs have been played on radio stations throughout northern Mexico and even the station owners have no idea that "La Migra" is behind the ballads.

BBC Mundo reporter Carlos Ceresole also wrote an excellent piece last month about the initiative, Operación "migracorridos", and we have translated it here below. Unlike the Post, BBC offers the complete audio for four of the five songs on the first album.

Is this good? Is this bad? I don't know, but I think that if it prevents deaths by weeding out those who are not prepared for the physically arduous task of crossing the border without authorization, then it is helpful, no matter who is financing the campaign. I would rather see an hermano or hermana deterred and alive in Mexico than dead, robbed or assaulted by a coyote who double-crossed them or a Border Patrol agent who shot first and asked questions later.


The new secret weapon of the U.S. Border Patrol: a musical offensive with ranchera rhythms and lyrics that evoke the dangers of illegally crossing the border.

In "Respeto”, a young man who decided to emigrate to the North "to become someone" talks about his own death and that of his fellow travelers, suffocated when the "pollero" – human smuggler – leaves them trapped in the vehicle that carried them.

"Para cruzar la frontera / Me puso en la caja de un trailer / Allí compartí mis penas / Con otros cuarenta inmigrantes / A mi nunca me dijeron / Que esto era un viaje al infierno".

In "El Más Gran Enemigo", over a guitar and accordion background, the Michoacan Abelardo tells of the moment he woke in the middle of the desert to find his cousin Raphael dead at his side.

"Pensó en buscar el regreso / Y hacer un sepelio en el pueblo / Y a manera de juramento / Dijo a su primo difunto / Si Dios me ha de quitar la vida / Que sea en mi tierra querida".

And on the same tragic note, the other three themes that complete this first musical release of the "No More Crosses on the Border” campaign -- a play on words that at the same time refers to the illegal entrances and those who die in the attempt -- tell stories of abuse, killing and rape.

Another star is born

The increased activity of the drug cartels in Mexico led a while ago to a musical variant, the "narcocorridos", in which the lyrics recount the exploits of drug dealers and their often violent end.

But what nobody expected was that the U.S. government would resort to the same resources to spread its ads, giving birth to another appendix to the traditional Mexican corridos.

Moreover, the name of the CD - "Migracorridos" - also seems to show that the Border Patrol has assumed the nickname "la Migra", as U.S. immigration agents are usually called, almost always in a derogatory manner, without any complex.

"The important thing is that we get the message across and save as many lives as possible," Eugenio Rodriguez, Jr., spokesman for the Border Patrol in Laredo, Texas, told BBC World.

"Many of those arriving at the border to attempt the crossing have been cheated. They do not know what they face."

"For the 'coyotes' -- another name by which the people-smugglers are known – they are only objects of profit ... they take their money, they exploit them, they abandon them in the desert…We are trying to warn them that it is not worth the effort, to think of their families,” Rodriguez said.

Secret Weapon

The CD was produced by Elevación, a Hispanic advertising agency based in Washington, which gave it freely to dozens of radio stations in northern Mexico.

Jimmy Learned, president of the company, told BBC World that the songs have had very good public acceptance.

"People started calling the radio stations to request the songs ... interested in who was the singer or group. I think that some of the songs were even nominated for an award in Mexico," he said.

What listeners do not know is that "migracorridos" are part of an advertising campaign paid for by the U.S. Border Patrol.

Both Learned and Rodriguez admitted that it was decided not to publicize this detail to avoid rejections and maximize the impact of the campaign.

José Luis Gasca, chief operating officer of La Zeta, a radio station in Morelia, Michoacan, told BBC World that he was not aware of the origin of these songs that are regularly on the air on his station, but that they seemed "suitable material".

"Although it is in a sui generis manner, they are inviting people to be aware that this adventure that is part of the culture of Mexico, is a practice that often leads to misfortune," Gasca said.

The measure of success

Official figures provided by the Border Patrol show that in fiscal year 2007, which runs from October 1 to September 30 -- a total of 876,704 arrests, 398 deaths and 1,847 rescues took place along the Mexican-American border.

The numbers for fiscal year 2008 are 723,825 prisoners, 390 dead and 1,263 rescued.

The decline in all categories appear to be symptomatic of a change, but it is very likely due to the impact of a number of factors: an economy in recession, more border agents, better infrastructure and deterrent technology, and – why not? -- maybe the contribution of the "migracorridos”.

It is difficult to measure the impact because "we are not selling anything, just trying to save lives," said Learned.

For now, he says that they are about to put out two new songs in April and that they are thinking about expanding the campaign to the rest of Mexico and Central America.

For the public "what is important is that the campaign has positioned itself in the community."

"If we can at least make people think twice before taking off, he said, that's a success."



El Más Grande Enemigo

En la Raya

Veinte Años


  1. Hola "Rebel Girl";-) You have great site, I think I am addicted! Funny how the US media is so slow with news items. God bless, tu amigo Martin.

  2. Gracias, Martin! Tengo un CD que quiero enviarte cuando puedo conseguir otra copia. Alabanzas carismaticas con acordeon, pues! ;-)

    For everyone else, if you click on the link in Martin's commentary you can get to the "official" English version of the BBC article.