MISSION, Texas — Overwhelmed by a surge in illegal immigration, especially by unaccompanied children, the U.S. government has launched a $1 million international media campaign warning families in Central America that it's best to stay at home.
Standing beside the Rio Grande on Wednesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said the message — aimed primarily at Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — is two-part: The trip to the United States is extremely dangerous, and immigrants who make it here will not be allowed to stay.
"We have to stem the flow," Kerlikowske said.
The effort will test high production value messaging against the pervasive gang violence and poverty that push many immigrants to flee their homelands.
Kerlikowske said 226 immigrants have died crossing the border since October. More than 52,000 unaccompanied children have been detained during the same period after entering the United States illegally, mostly in southern Texas.
The so-called "Dangers Awareness Campaign" will use hundreds of billboards and some 6,500 public service announcements for radio and television stations in the target countries.
One message has an image of a child's footprints in the desert running toward the horizon, with this message in Spanish: "I thought it would be easy for my son to get papers in the U.S.A. … I was wrong."
CBP spokesman Jaime Ruiz said the campaign is scheduled to run 11 weeks. He will travel to U.S. cities with large immigrant communities as well to reach relatives on this side of the border who may help fund a child's trip.