Mexico draws dire picture for migrants
By Chris Hawley and Sergio Solache, USA TODAY
MEXICO CITY — One migrant gets his legs sliced off by a train’s wheels. Another is shot by bandits on the Arizona border. Others are beaten and robbed by crooked Mexican police.
In a new effort to dissuade people from crossing the border illegally, Mexico’s top human-rights agency has published two comic books packed with tales about the horrors that migrants may face. The tone is very different from previous government publications that focused more on travel and safety tips.
One of the two Migrantes comics is aimed at Mexicans, while the other focuses on Central Americans traveling through Mexico on their way to the USA. The National Human Rights Commission began distributing 20,000 of them this month at migrant shelters and bus terminals.
“We could have made the stories a little softer, but the (commission) asked us to be very realistic,” said Domingo Perea, editorial director of Comics and Visual Arts, the firm hired to produce the comic books. “That was the intention, to discourage people from migrating.”
In the past, several Mexican states have published booklets with advice for migrants. And in 2004, the Mexican Foreign Ministry published a comic-style Guide for the Mexican Migrant that offered safety tips for those attempting to cross the border, information on their legal rights and advice for living unobtrusively in the USA. That booklet outraged U.S. immigration-control groups, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which said the comic style and frank advice trivialized U.S. immigration laws.
The new comics have a more depressing tone, Perea said. “We knew about that previous one, and both we and the Human Rights Commission felt it was too light,” he said.
The commission has been accused of being cavalier about illegal immigration in the past. In 2006, it abruptly abandoned plans to distribute maps of the Arizona desert to migrants after U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff objected.
The National Human Rights Commission is funded by Mexico’s federal government but operates independently. Its two Migrantes books are particularly harsh on Mexican authorities, portraying police and soldiers as corrupt.
In Issue No. 1 of Migrantes, a group of Mexicans is robbed by two Mexican police officers, abandoned by a smuggler and attacked by bandits on the Arizona-Mexico border. All the migrants turn back except one, who is seen dying in the desert on the last page.
Issue No. 2 follows a group of teenagers from Central America as they try to cross Mexico on their way to the USA. They are harassed by Mexican soldiers, beaten and robbed by Mexican police, kidnapped and beaten again by a machete-wielding gang, and then suffer extortion by another gang member. Two teens are killed by a train, and only one continues onward.
Perea said there are no immediate plans for more comic books.
Guillermo Alonso, a demographer at the College of the Northern Border, said the commission should be giving out travel information if it really wants to save lives, especially as the U.S.-Mexican border approaches its hottest season.
“I think the National Human Rights Commission is using the wrong strategy,” Alonso said. “What the migrants need are maps or radio programs to tell them what the weather is like.”
Hawley is Latin America correspondent for USA TODAY and The Arizona Republic