The government has enlisted all types of tools in its battle to stop illegal immigration from South of the Border – dogs, trenches, motion-controlled cameras, citizen border patrols, 500-mile long fences and other bright ideas that don’t seem to have done the trick. Recently, however, they turned to music.
“Migra Corridos” is the name of a five-song CD featuring catchy Mexican folk songs with what can only be described as morbid lyrics about the dangers of illegal immigration. The disc was funded by the Department of Homeland Security’s $3.8 billion “Border Safety Initiative.”
The title of the album is a reference to corridos, a genre of Mexican ballads that celebrate the adventures of outlaws and rebels, and to La Migra, the derogatory nickname Spanish-speaking people use for ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and other immigration agencies.
I know what you’re thinking, but this is not a Cheech & Chong sketch. DHS has enlisted the help of a New York City ad agency called Elevación to conduct a propaganda campaign aimed at dissuading Mexicans from attempting to enter the country illegally.
The idea is simultaneously ridiculous, taste-free and outright hilarious, especially since the lyrics to most of the songs read like a my-wife-got-run-over-by-the-tractor-and-my-best-friend-ran-away-with-my-dog country music cliché.
For example, here’s a verse from “El Mas Grande Enemigo (The Biggest Enemy),” which tells the sad tale of Abelardo and his cousin Rafael, who makes it into the States, but then perishes in the desert:
“After some hours/ Abelardo opened his eyes/ And in the middle of the cold night/ Discovered his dead cousin at his side.”
I know, right? If they were going to do this, they could have at least enlisted the talents of a decent songwriter. This sounds like the work of a third grader. Maybe it reads better in Spanish.
Other tracks on the album tell similarly charming stories, like a worker who suffocates in a tractor-trailer container and a mother who is raped by “coyotes,” or immigrant smugglers.
To get the songs to their target audience, the Border Patrol sent the album to dozens of Mexican radio stations in areas thought to be places large numbers of potential illegal immigrants reside.
Now here’s the funniest part of this whole thing (if it is funny – to be honest, I can’t decide if I should be amused or horrified by this campaign): The songs have become hits.
At first the stations just aired portions of the songs in warning ads by the Mexican government. It wasn’t long, however, before people began calling in to find out who sang the songs and ask that they be played in their entirety.
Elevación president Jimmy Learned told BBC Mundo he believes one of the tracks was even nominated for an award in Mexico.
(Okay, that settles it. It’s funny.)
DHS has worked hard to keep its involvement in this crazy project a secret, rightly fearing both a public backlash at home and outright failure of the campaign in Mexico if people there found out the music was sponsored by La Migra.
In fact, the manager of a radio station in Michoacán told the Associated Press the truth could have even greater consequences with the citizens of Mexico.
“They’d feel as if La Migra was after them in their own country,” La Zeta station manager Jose Gasca said.
Of course none of that has stopped DHS and the Border Patrol from claiming the campaign is working.
Wendi Lee, a Border Patrol spokesperson in Washington, D.C., proudly told the AP border crossing deaths have declined from a record 492 in 2005 to 390 last year.
Uh-huh. And I suppose beefed-up border security and reduced migration because the economy here sucks too have nothing to do with that decline at all?
Elevación’s Learned is bragging about the success of the campaign too.
“A lot of people thought the Mexican government was behind it – the last thing we wanted was to put paid by La Migra,” he explained, noting two new migra corridos were released last month. “What’s most important is that if we’ve made people think twice, we’ve succeeded.”
Next stop, Central America.
In case you’re curious, you can hear all five of the original songs from the album here. (Of course, you’ll probably get more out of the experience if you speak Spanish.)
Read the North American Congress on Latin America’s coverage and analysis of DHS’ “Migra Corridos” project here.