James Badcock, Telegraph, April 14, 2015
The sirens wail in the darkness and the brakes bring the patrol vehicle crunching to halt. “Hey people, listen! We are the US Border Patrol. We’re here to help you. Why don’t you surrender?” Then what sound like gunshots are heard by the dozens of young Mexicans cowering amid the undergrowth.
But the man with the loudspeaker in the dead of night is only playing the part of a “migra” border guard, and the youths he is trying to find before manhandling them into his vehicle are tourists taking part in the Night Walk experience offered by a theme park four hundred miles south of the actual Mexico-US frontier.
Cirilo Jerónimo is ideal for the role of US anti-immigration officer as he had plenty of real-life experience before landing his theme park job.
“I try to act based on what I saw the Border Patrol doing when I was crossing the line,” he said.
Mr Jerónimo was caught the second time he tried to travel north, having already lived in Utah for eight years as a building worker.
A two-hour drive north of Mexico City, El Alberto was becoming a ghost town in 2004, with most of the population having left for the United States. But then local entrepreneurs created EcoAlberto, a theme park where guests can go kayaking and mountaineering by day and play at being an illegal immigrant by night.
Participants pay 250 pesos (around £10) to pretend to be migrants wading through mud, tunnels and across rough terrain without torches or water while trying to evade border guards, thieves and dangerous drug traffickers, all played by actors.
The aim, the organisers say, is to create awareness of the perils of emigration. Most will be caught by the “migra” or fall prey to criminal elements.
At 9pm Poncho, who claims to have been a “coyote”–or migrants’ guide–in real life, welcomes the group of rowdy young tourists to the starting point, next to El Alberto’s church. “We started doing these walks on 31 July, 2004, with the aim of showing people the real Mexico that many people don’t want to see.”
“Think now about the migrant who is travelling on top of a train or freezing in some desert night. What you will experience is probably not even five per cent of what those emigrants are going through.”
In 2014, just under 500,000 people were detained near the US-Mexico border, including 229,000 Mexicans. The US government recorded 307 deaths among illegal immigrants in the 12 months to September 2014, down on previous years.