Inside Mexico’s ‘Illegal Immigrant Theme Park’: Incredible Footage Gives Taste of Potentially Deadly Trip Across the U.S. Border
Helen Pow, Daily Mail (London), June 2, 2012
An incredible new video has revealed a rare glimpse of what it’s like for illegal immigrants who make the potentially deadly trip across the Mexican border into the United States.
The EcoAlberto theme park in El Alberto, Mexico, offers tourists the chance to experience a simulated illegal U.S. border crossing and for the first time the bizarre tourist attraction has been caught on film.
Vice documentary makers took a video camera along to expose just how scary it is for the thousands of migrants who cross treacherous terrain and risk being shot by patrol guards each year to get to a better life in the U.S.
The video shows a group of tourists, mostly in their 20s, as they get their names checked off and pile into trucks that transport them to the supposed border. El Alberto is actually 800 miles from the U.S. border.
It then follows Poncho — who plays the people smuggler or ‘coyote’ — as he guides the tourists in their mad dash, sending the weak first, followed by the women and finally the men.
‘Quick! Women go first,’ he shouts, impatiently. ’Move quickly. Now men, let’s go. Run! Run! Run! Run!’
He explains on the way that the tourists will experience about 5 per cent of
what a real migrant goes through when they are attempting to cross the Rio Grande to get to the U.S.
‘Where we are going conditions are harsh,’ he said.
‘We will find mud, tunnels, canyons, poisonous plants, snakes and spiders. Just think for a minute about the things migrants have to go through . . . they have no water and have no food and perhaps are riding now on top of a train or walking through freezing cold desert.’
But its not long until the frightening video shows flashing lights and sirens as U.S. border patrol catches up to the fake immigrants.
‘Here they come!’ shouts Poncho. ‘Get down on the ground! Hide in there! Everyone down! Nobody move!’
Gunshots ring out in the night air as the men who act out the part of border patrol workers arrive with torches, searching the pitch-black scrub looking for Mexican migrants.
Some of the border patrol team have experienced the brutality of a border crossing for real.
The men, speaking in English, shout to the supposed illegal aliens: ‘Please surrender people or we’re going to kill you’.
They catch a number, pushing them to the ground, acting rough. But then the rest of the group manage to sneak through a barbed wire fence and make the crossing successfully.
Deputy commissioner Fortunato San Pedro says 90 per cent of El Alberto’s population had emigrated four years ago, leaving the place a ghost town.
But he says since the EcoAlberto Park and it’s famous walk opened half have returned. The recreational park also has swimming pools, river trips, zip lines, and the other typical fare.
‘We now have something good for our community,’ he said.
Poncho explains that the theme park has created jobs.
‘We have a pretty big infrastructure, with 82 people working to operate this stimulation. Some people are guides and some are patrol officers. Some carry the bags, some are drivers, and some work as paramedics. But we don’t tell any of this to the tourists, because that would ruin the impact of this experience.’
According to park secretary, Purificacion Alvarez, the ‘Night Walk’ costs $20 or $250 pesos.
It starts at 9pm and generally lasts about four hours but some of the most extreme walks have not ended until 5am.
‘We offer a unique activity that you won’t find anywhere else. The goal of the walk is to simulate what its like for emigrants to cross into the U.S,’ she said.
Poncho tells the tourists that the park started the walk with ‘the idea of showing people the Mexico that exists but many don’t want to see’.
He added: ‘This night is to honor and pay tribute to all of those who have been migrants.’