HispanicVista Columnists

A Manual for Illegal Immigrants?

By Domenico Maceri


In its efforts to help its citizens identify themselves in the US, the Mexican government instituted a matricula consular, an identity card available to those who might not have other forms of ID. It's been a popular and useful document. Many American banks and local US government agencies accept it as a legitimate I.D.
Now to help save lives of Mexican nationals who may cross into the US without papers, the Mexican government has published Guia del Migrante Mexicano (Guide to Mexican Migrant), an illustrated handout providing advice on how to stay alive and other useful information.
Will the booklet increase border crossings?
Yes, say officials of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Rick Oltman, a spokesperson for the group stated that it will even increase more "tragic deaths" because it will serve as encouragement for people to make the dangerous journey.
Mexican government officials disagree. They believe that the information provided will neither increase nor decrease the number of illegal crossings. It will simply save lives.
More than 1 million copies of the booklet have been printed. They include 32 pages of text and illustrations and are being distributed at government offices and insides Mexican magazines. They are also available online and at Mexican consulate offices in the US.
Tips on staying alive are provided. They include advice on how much water to bring, how to cross a river, the clothing necessary, how not to get lost, and not to trust smugglers.
The handbook also provides information about rights people have if apprehended. The advice is to cooperate with American authorities and not give false information. The booklet also lists the location of Mexican consulates in the US. It reminds Mexican nationals in the US that they can call their country's representatives to ask for assistance.
Although the focus of the booklet is on advice to staying alive, it does include some information aiming to discourage people planning to cross the border illegally.
Most analysts believe that the booklet will not increase illegal immigration from Mexico. However, it might save lives of people who have already decided to make the journey and have little or no clue about what's awaiting them or how to survive.
Providing advice not to make the trip to the US without appropriate papers has already been done by American officials. The idea is to point out the dangers of coming to the US illegally.
The Mexican booklet is different in that its focus is on providing tips that will help people stay alive if they end up in dangerous situations. Several hundred migrants die crossing the border illegally every year.
Mexico does not do a very good job of providing employment to its citizens. Yet, it recognizes that its citizens have rights whether they live in their country or abroad. The matricula consular has been a success which other countries with undocumented workers are imitating. Guatemala and Ecuador provide similar forms of identification to their citizens living abroad. Nicaragua, El Salvador, Peru, Brazil, and Poland are planning to do the same.
The publication of the Guide to Mexican Migrant is another example of Mexico's officials as they try to help their very vulnerable citizens outside their borders.
In many ways, the Mexican government is doing what the US counterpart does when it provides advisories to its citizens traveling abroad.
The publication of the booklet may not please some Americans, but Mexico has the right and indeed its duty to protect its citizens and save their lives regardless of where they happened to be.
Ideally, Mexico's government would restructure its economy in ways that would offer people opportunities and incentives to stay home. The US should help. We are spending billions to fix and stabilize Iraq. Maybe we should help our southern neighbor? It would not cost nearly that much.
Domenico Maceri (http://languageblogger.blogspot.com/), PhD, UC Santa Barbara, a contributing columnist to HispanicVista.com (www.hispanicvista.com), teaches foreign languages at
Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, CA.