Mass. Company Draws Fire for Immigration Game App

Russell Contreras, WTOP-FM (Washington, D.C.), February 7, 2011

A game developed by a Boston-based tech company that allows users to drive a truck full of immigrants through the desert and try not to have them tossed out is drawing fire from some immigrant advocates.

“Smuggle Truck: Operation Immigration,” a proposed iPhone and iPad app by Owlchemy Labs targeted for release in March, lets players navigate through what appears to be the U.S.-Mexican border. As the truck drives over cliffs, mountains and dead animals, immigrants fall off the truck’s bed. Scores are calculated by the number of immigrants helped crossing the U.S. border.

Developer Alex Schwartz said the idea for the satirical game came out of frustration friends faced while trying to immigrate to the U.S.

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Schwartz said the message that developers want to send out through the game–it’s so tough to legally emigrate to the U.S. that it’s almost easier to smuggle yourself over the border despite the dangers.

But Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrants & Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said the game is in poor taste and trivializes the seriousness of immigrants willing to risk their lives under a broken immigration system.

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Patricia Montes, executive director of Centro Presente, a Somerville, Mass.-based Latino immigrant advocacy group, agreed.

“I don’t think that people who are trying to emigrate into the U.S. think they are part of a game,” Montes said. {snip}

Schwartz said it wasn’t the developers’ intent to offend immigrants and their advocates. In fact, he said developers went out of their way to make sure the game’s characters weren’t stereotypical. “For example, one of the immigrants is a nerdy looking guy with a pocket protector,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz said developers even have opened up the game to outside programmers for a contest to add suggestions and new levels. The winner gets to have his or her face on one of the immigrants in the game, he said.

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