At an amusement park in the rural HñaHñu community of Hidalgo, Mexico, visitors can experience hot springs, rappelling… and simulated border crossing. On Monday, PBS highlighted the three hour border crossing, El Norte, replete with fake smugglers, sirens, border patrol agents, chases, and dogs. The attraction opened in 2004 as an effort to deter migrants from making an actual trip across the U.S.-Mexico border.
The nearly eight-mile hike was created by a group of HñaHñu Indians, who made the real U.S.-Mexico border crossing many times and by one estimate, saw 80 percent of its population attempt the same journey. El Norte founder Alfonso Martinez says, “We wanted to have a type of tourism that really raised people’s understanding…so we decided to turn the painful experience all of us here have gone through into a kind of game that teaches something to our fellow Mexicans.” Unlike real border crossers whose guides abandon them and leave them for dead, these tourists end the night with a lecture from the guides and at most, cuts, sprains, and bruises.
The border crossing simulation highlights the intensity and suffering that has become so much a part of the Latin American immigration story. Late Monday night, the Senate passed a major border security amendment to the immigration bill that could upend future border crossings by making it more treacherous, if not deadly, for migrants to come into the U.S. The amendment would greatly increase the number of border patrol agents, hundreds of miles of fencing, and add surveillance drones along the southern border.”
However, at the cost of $20 per person, the border crossing experience mostly attracts middle-class professionals, students, and Mexican urbanites, people who all say that “they will not do it themselves.” While net undocumented immigration is at or below zero, the reality is that poor migrants desperate for a better life would make the journey despite the risks. A report finds that even with tougher border security measures, 43 percent of detainees surveyed at an AZ detention center would attempt and re-attempt border crossings, many for the sake of family reunification.