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Mexican Guide for Migrants Gets Criticized North of the Border

U.S. immigration control groups are expressing outrage at a 32-page booklet published by the Mexican government that offers safety tips for Mexicans attempting to cross the border illegally.

Much of the U.S. border with Mexico is harsh, sparsely populated desert with summertime temperatures that regularly top 43 degrees Celsius. But, each year, thousands of Mexican nationals attempt to cross that desert illegally to find work in the United States...and each year, many of them die in the attempt. More than 300 perished last year. The new booklet - titled Guide for the Mexican Migrant -- uses colorful comic-book style pictures and text to give advice, such as how to avoid dehydration in the Arizona desert or get across the Rio Grande River into Texas.

Jack Martin of the Federation for American Immigration Reform says the publication is essentially a "how-to book" for sneaking across the border. "It makes the necessary statements about the fact that you really shouldn't enter the United States illegally and there are a lot of dangers associated with that…but it goes beyond that," he says, flipping through the pages. "[It] suggests how to minimize those dangers in order to successfully get into the United States and, once you're in the United States, how to comport yourself in order to manage to not fall into the attention of U.S. immigration or police officials."

The immigration control advocate calls the publication and distribution of the guide "an unfriendly act against the United States," one that actually encourages illegal immigration. "It seems pretty clear," Mr. Martin says, "that a Mexican reading this handbook in Mexico would see it as an encouragement to run the risks, knowing he would be able to minimize the possibilities of detection and apprehension."

Many immigrants run the risk even without reading the handbook. If they're lucky as they cross the desert, they stumble across someone from Humane Borders. The humanitarian assistance group maintains water stations throughout the most popular crossing areas. Humane Borders president, the Reverend Robin Hoover, says information in the booklet can make the difference between life and death for the undocumented workers whose only thought is to reach the United States.

"They don't know the distances," explains Rev. Hoover. "They don't know exactly where they're going. They have no idea where their guide is going to take them. They have no advance information. They've never gone through a desert." Many of them, he says, have spent their lives in jungle villages in Mexico or Central America.

Caught in the middle of this latest chapter of the border dispute are migrants like Ricardo Ramos. The 18-year-old from Guatemala made the dangerous desert crossing in early January, but was quickly apprehended and returned to Mexico. He says he has no choice but to try again, hoping to eventually find work and send money home.

"I wanted to keep going to school," Mr. Ramos says. "I just graduated from primary and high school. I wanted to go on to the university but I didn't have the opportunity. So that's why I help my younger brothers and sisters so they will have that opportunity that I didn't have...and to help my parents at the same time."

Humane Borders president Robin Hoover says he would like to see the Mexican government provide more realistic advice for those, like Ricardo, who are thinking about a desert crossing. "I'd like to see billboards that say 'You are here' just like at the mall," he says, "and 'This is a one day walk…a two-day walk…a three-day walk,' and 'This is how many gallons of water you're going to need, and by the way, you can't get there because you can't carry enough water, so go home.'"

But former Arizona state senator Randy Graf believes that is not the message of Guide for the Mexican Migrant. "It validates what we've said all along," he says, "that the Mexican government is not discouraging illegal immigration."

Mexico's Foreign Ministry says it is working with U.S. agents to tighten the border, and its new booklet is part of that effort. The Mexican officials say the booklet is not only aimed at saving lives, but is also informing migrants of the legal consequences of entering the United States without following immigration laws.