Posted on August 24, 2004

Going Extreme To Pursue Dream

Jerry Seper, Washington Times, Aug. 18

A popular new reality TV show offers illegal aliens a chance to win the services of a law firm to gain a “green card” — if the contestants are willing to, among other things, eat a worm-stuffed taco.

With an estimated audience of 1 million viewers, the program — known as “Gana la Verde” or “Win the Green” — has become the second most watched Spanish-language television show by Hispanics 18 to 49 in the Los Angeles area.

Show winners are guaranteed the services of a noted immigration attorney for a year to apply for a government-issued green card, which gives them the right to work and permanently reside in the United States. The show’s producers, Liberman Broadcasting Corp., do not guarantee a card will be issued, only that a law firm will be hired to seek one.

Liberman Broadcasting introduces each show with a video overview of six contestants battling for the green card through a maze of barbed wire along the U.S.-Mexico border, with U.S. Border Patrol helicopters shown overhead.

The prime-time program, which began in July, runs five times a week, during which contestants fight off barking dogs, eat burritos filled with beetles, jump between speeding 18-wheel trucks, are dragged by horses, wash windows on a downtown skyscraper, lie in a sealed plastic coffin with 500 rats and eat worms, including live tequila worms — much like the NBC show “Fear Factor.”

In a recent broadcast, a 24-year-old electrician who identified himself only as Roberto said he had lived illegally in the United States for four years. He tried to cross a narrow wooden beam over grimy, muck-filled water at the Port of Los Angeles. He fell.

“I was here to get my papers,” he said. “But I lost.”

In an Aug. 11 letter to KRCA-TV, the Los Angeles station that airs the program, several groups, including the Southern California Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the California La Raza Lawyers Association, asked that the show be canceled.

They charged that the program encouraged foreign nationals to enter the country illegally and was exploiting people with “unrealistic expectations.”

“This show takes advantage of people’s fears, offers them false promises, functions as a magnet to encourage people to enter this country without documentation, and makes them potential targets of our government’s misguided immigration polices,” said the letter, also signed by the Central American Resource Center, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles , the Immigration Section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, the Latina Lawyers Bar Association and the Mexican American Bar Association.

“We demand you immediately take ‘Gana la Verde’ off the air.”

The letter also said that while the program does not guarantee a green card, it suggests that contestants could obtain a card if they participate.

“Each day ‘Gana la Verde’ is on the air demonstrates your contempt for immigrants,” it said.

Lenard Liberman, executive vice president of Liberman Broadcasting, yesterday denied the show exploited illegal aliens and said the company had no plans to cancel it. He said every participant signs a waiver in Spanish claiming they are legally in the state, although the company has no obligation or ability to prove or disprove the statements.

He said that while the participants are aware there is no promise of a green card, only an offer of legal representation, the organizations calling for the show’s demise “maybe think they are losing clientele.”

“We’re just trying to help people out here. I don’t know what all the controversy’s about,” Mr. Liberman said. “If we gave away breast implants or plastic surgery, no one could care. But try to help Maria go from a nanny to a nurse, and everyone raises an outcry.”

During the July sweeps, “Gana la Verde” beat out NBC’s “Fear Factor” on the Hispanic Nielsen ratings in Los Angeles.

The show also airs in Houston, Dallas and San Diego. Producers said there is a waiting list of people who want to be on the program and there is no requirement that those who participate use their real names.

Liberman Broadcasting owns and operates 15 Spanish-language radio stations and four Spanish-language television stations in California and Texas. The company also owns television production facilities in Dallas, Houston and Burbank, Calif.

Various immigration advocacy groups have suggested that if Liberman Broadcasting does not pull the show, they will call for a boycott of the program’s advertisers, as well as legal action for what they described as false advertising and unlawful legal advice.

The U.S. Census Bureau has estimated there are 35.4 million people living in California, of which 2.2 million are believed to be illegal aliens, mostly Mexican nationals — the largest number of illegals in any state. The state’s foreign-born population was set by the Census Bureau at 8.8 million, about 26 percent of the total population.

Green cards, also known as alien registration receipt cards, usually are obtained through U.S. consulates or embassies in the applicants’ home countries and through U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (CIS) in the United States. Persons with the cards, which are no longer green, can apply for U.S. citizenship.