- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2001

MEXICO CITY — The Mexican government this month released short videos for passenger buses that implore would-be migrants not to risk their lives crossing the U.S. border.
The "Don't Risk It" program of public-service videos, which complement other cautionary spots now airing on national television, were introduced by Juan Hernandez, the coordinator of President Vicente Fox's new office on Mexicans abroad.
Mr. Hernandez, a former professor at the University of Texas, Dallas, appears in the videos wearing a suit and his hair neatly slicked back. Emphasizing that Mr. Fox is creating opportunities for Mexicans at home, he speaks emotionally of the dangers from smugglers, the risks of contracting AIDS in the United States and the perils of the harsh desert environment.
"It's very important that you know that the summer is the worst time for you to try to cross deserts," Mr. Hernandez says in one minute-long video as images of barren landscapes and crosses marking deaths appear on the screen.
"You know that people have died there often, and that the border has become more and more dangerous. Please, paisano [countryman], don't risk it."
The Mexican government estimated that 491 Mexicans died attempting to illegally cross into the United States last year. To date this year, it estimates that 202 have perished, many of them by drowning, suffering dehydration in deserts or freezing in the mountains.
One of Mr. Hernandez's new videos urges migrants who reach the United States to investigate the cheapest and safest ways to wire their money back home. For years, migrants have complained that companies charge them exorbitant fees for transferring money to Mexico.
Mr. Hernandez said the Mexican government negotiated with this country's large Estrella Blanca bus company to show the videos free of charge in between movies shown on long trips here. Estrella Blanca buses, on average, transport about 350,000 passengers a month to destinations in northern Mexico near the U.S. border.
Mr. Hernandez said that bus lines that cater to Mexicans living in the United States also may start showing the videos. Among the bus lines that may cooperate are Grupo Maya, a transportation company based in Dallas, and Transportes Los Primos de Atlanta, another U.S.-based company.
Mr. Fox, whose election last year ended 71 years of one-party rule, has placed a new emphasis on offering assistance to Mexicans living in the United States and is trying to dissuade Mexicans from leaving their country.
He created the office that Mr. Hernandez now directs and has traveled to the United States to visit migrant communities.
"I honestly don't know what impact this will have. But my conscience forces me to do all I can to save lives, even if it's just one life," Mr. Hernandez said at a press conference after showing the videos to reporters aboard an Estrella Blanca bus. The bus traveled around the grounds of Mr. Fox's residence, where Mr. Hernandez's office is located.
The office of Mexico's interior secretary and its National Migration Institute also are paying national television stations here to air public service announcements that warn of the dangers of crossing the border.
In one spot, a man describes his three failed attempts to get to the United States. Against a backdrop of images, he says he nearly drowned and nearly froze to death.
"The third time the 'migra' caught me," he says dejectedly, a reference to the U.S. Border Patrol.
Mr. Hernandez's spots are more direct and urge Mexicans to stay home because Mr. Fox is trying to create new job opportunities for them. He opens the videos by offering greetings from Mr. Fox and explaining that the president regards migrants as "heroes."
However, Mr. Hernandez says, "The border today is a very dangerous. The message that I bring for you is, 'Think about it very well. Don't risk it.' People do die crossing the border. It's a reality. The rivers are dangerous. They can drag you away and kill you. It's true, brother."
In another video that attacks "polleros," or smugglers, Mr. Hernandez tells Mexicans, "the smugglers who traffic in humans are not your friends. We know that they abandon people in deserts, mountains, in rivers where they end up drowning and dying. They have raped girls. Don't put your faith in smugglers. Stay in Mexico; let's look for opportunities here."
In the video warning migrants about AIDS, Mr. Hernandez says, "Dear countrymen, if you are thinking of going to the United States, we want you to know there is a great enemy called AIDS.
"Here in Mexico AIDS is growing in areas of high migration, from which you leave," Mr. Hernandez says. "Number one, don't risk it, don't even go there. Let's look for opportunities in Mexico. Vicente Fox, your president, is doing everything he can to create opportunities here. Think about it. Don't go. AIDS is a reality."

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