Fake Border-Crossing Amusement Park Mocks Immigrant Experience

During a time when immigration is one of the most contested political issues and when migrants are dying in increasingly high numbers along the war-zone-like border (which is currently planned to reach a state of security overkill in 2014), it is rather shocking that in the Mexican state of Hidalgo there is an amusement park with a simulated U.S.-Mexico border crossing. The attraction, which is complete with fake border patrol officers, sirens, chases, smugglers, dogs and an 8-mile hike to the finish line, claims to offer participants “the events of a typical border crossing as realistically as possible.”

Recently there’s been a lot of media coverage on the attraction, where headlines read, “ Crossing the U.S.-Mexico Border Illegally for Fun?” and “ Weird Award of the Week: Mexican Theme Park with Simulated Border Crossing.” PBS even called special attention to the attraction when it describes it as offering visitors, “the thrills and chills of an illegal border crossing.”

But what “thrills” is PBS talking about? And “chills” is a huge understatement when it comes to the hypothermia-inducing temperatures and near-death encounters with snakes, border patrol and deceptive smugglers. 

The founders of the park, though, had a good motive for creating the mock border crossing: to deter would-be border crossers by providing a taste of the difficult and exhausting experience of crossing the border.

But the media coverage on PBS and Time magazine tends to make a mockery of a problematic and dangerous situation. 

First off, there is a major issue when PBS describes the "ideal” visitor as: “Those who want to simulate the experience of fleeing across the border, without the real danger.”

However, a key point is that crossing the border is very dangerous, and potentially deadly. Migrants who attempt, succeed and fail in crossing the border make the difficult decision of risking their lives. They take the ultimate risk all for the possibility of providing for loved ones or reuniting with them in the U.S.

But it is obviously very difficult to simulate that. In fact, it's nearly impossible. 

And, quite frankly, I’m sorry, but I just can’t have any empathy for some visitor who wants to cross the border "without the real danger." In fact, it’s quite troubling that someone would even play at crossing the border.

That’s what’s most upsetting: making border-crossing not only into some sort of spectacle for bored or curious visitors to indulge in, but making it into some kind of sport. And reports from PBS and Time only exacerbate this kind of understanding.

In Time’s report, for example, the reporters wrote of the event in a rather sporty fashion, making it sound like an avatar action-packed video game:

Every weekend, dozens of participants pay about $20 apiece to scramble up hills, slide down ravines and run through tunnels pursued by siren-blaring pickup trucks and pumped-up border-patrol agents shouting in accented English.

And, according to participants and organizers in the report, the attraction “is a great deal of fun.”

If this attraction is indeed fun, then there is no way it simulates an actual border crossing. In fact, there’s no way a "fun" border crossing effectively deters participants from potentially crossing the border, even if it is supposedly “difficult.” ("Difficult" here mean that participants will experience blisters, cuts, sprains, bruises, bug bites, dust attacks, near-blinded spotlights and stubbed toes—which all sound like potential risks of playing on a playground at night.)

What’s more, at the end of the attraction when participants arrive at the fakefrontera they are rewarded with sweet breads and tea. Now how far from reality is that?

Plus, as far as deterrence goes, it’s really not as necessary when the majority of participants are middle-class Mexicans. As PBS put it: “In other words, not the most likely group to attempt an illegal crossing into the U.S.”

Is it just me, or does this sound like a twisted way for relatively wealthy people to pretend they’re desperate and poor?

As a New York Times article put it:

The idea of tourists’ aping illegal immigrants can seem crass, like Marie Antoinette playing peasant on the grounds of Versailles. 

And, just like Marie Antoinette, these participants, while they play their mock border-crossing game, are clueless to the stark reality of the immigrant experience.

What’s worse is that PBS and Time exhibit this cluelessness as well; there is no mention in their reports of the escalating number of migrant deaths along the border, or the massive immigrant detention system or the record-breaking immigrant deportations under President Obama. This is even more troubling now due to the planned increase in border security (as well as the current blueprint of using weaponize drones along the border) that is estimated to result in even more deaths along the border.

So, while the founders of the park intend to dissuade would-be border crossers (a motive with merit due to the increasing probability of death along the border), the fact is what they produced not only fails to come even remotely close to what a real border crossing is like, but it also disrespects the migrant experience of crossing the ever-increasing death-zone of a border.

Crossing the border is not a game, it is not a sport, and therefore it should not be portrayed as one. And, more importantly, crossing the border is not a proud moment, it is a desperate one, a lonely one, a potentially lethal one and therefore it would be impossible to "simulate" a border crossing without these very real fears and emotions.

And PBS and Time magazine only perpetuate this disrespect toward migrants and their experiences when they neglect to address the dangers of attempting to cross the border. In fact, their reports, which include mention of the "sweet breads and tea" and describe the attraction as an action-packed thriller, only propel the imagery and sentiments of crossing the border as being "dangerously entertaining" and "fun," and therefore something not to be taken seriously.

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