Guatemala's New Migrant Campaign: Don't Do It, But if You Do, Here's a 'How-To'

By Kausha Luna on August 12, 2015

Yesterday, a U.S. Border Patrol delegation from Arizona visited Guatemala to discuss the dangers of illegal immigration and measures to protect migrants. During this visit, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), presented a new campaign titled "¿Qué pasa, Qué hago?" or "What Happens? What do I do?" The campaign, also supported by the local Catholic bishops' conference, is an initiative to "inform child migrants and their families on the steps to be taken if they are detained at the U.S. border." The campaign consists of comics, videos, and other materials to be distributed in schools, and via radios social media, and national consulates.

The campaign is a response to the continued influx of illegal alien minors and families. One storyline follows Juanito's "journey" to the United States with the hope of finding a job to support his ill mother and six siblings. His smuggler abandoned him mid-travels. Juanito then finally arrives at the Arizona border unaware of the precautions to be taken to avoid being detained. He is found by U.S. authorities and detained.

Accompanying graphics present contradictory messages such as: "Don't hire a person that offers you an American visa. They are fooling you," discouraging illegal immigration vis-à-vis coyotes. But then they give a series of instructions to those who go anyway on how to succeed: "If you are detained in the U.S., you should tell the truth and collaborate with the authorities," "Ask that they contact your parents or family in the U.S. The call is free," and "Ask that they notify the Guatemalan consulate so they may help you."

Both Guatemalan and U.S. authorities consider this campaign a useful tool towards the common effort to curb illegal immigration levels and show "how to migrate legally and safely" instead. Guatemalan Deputy Foreign Minister Óscar Padilla said, "[the campaign] is directed towards the Guatemalans that are considering the option of migrating, and advises that they not do it given the high risks; and if they do it, they can know the dangers they will face." Similarly, Manuel Padilla Jr. (no relation), Chief Patrol Agent in the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector, claims that "thanks to this type of effort it's been possible to decrease immigration in the sector."

Neither the United States nor Guatemala is sending a clear message on U.S. immigration policy. This campaign is full of qualified warnings; in effect, "Don't do it, but if you do, here is a 'how to.'" To successfully address illegal immigration, the U.S. must be clear on its policies at home and abroad.

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