Posted on April 5, 2021

US Ramps up Ad Campaign in Latin America Fighting Against Disinformation

Priscilla Alvarez, CNN, April 3, 2021

The Biden administration has placed around 28,000 radio ads in Latin America as part of a stepped-up campaign to discourage people from journeying to the US. But amid a dramatic spike in migrants to the southern border, many of whom have been lured by false information and rumors from smugglers, it’s not clear the ads are resonating.

At first, the message from the US government seems subtle. Set against a soft melody, a roughly 45-second radio ad running in Guatemala features a conversation between two men — one who wants to join a caravan to travel to the US with his child and another trying to talk him out of it.

The man wishing to leave says that it’s easier to cross the border with a child, but his friend quips that he’s wrong and lays out the dangers of traveling north, saying they can be assaulted, kidnapped or killed, and run a higher risk of contracting coronavirus.

“Don’t put your kids’ lives at risk based on false hopes,” the man argues, according to audio of a radio ad shared with CNN. A narrator then steps in to say people can get ahead in Guatemala, beseeching people not to leave and put their family at risk.

The ad is among the thousands like it placed by the US into media markets in Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras since January. The spots, which are recorded in Spanish, Portuguese, and six indigenous languages, have reached at least 7 million Central American radio listeners via 133 radio stations, according to a State Department spokesperson, who added the scripts are derived from real-life testimonials. The US is also using social media to relay the administration’s message.


The ad campaign is designed to combat a range of factors driving migrants to the border, including a slew of misinformation being spread by smugglers and the widespread belief among migrants that under the Biden administration, border enforcement has been relaxed and the US is more welcoming to immigrants. {snip}


US Customs and Border Protection encountered 171,700 migrants in March, including a record number of unaccompanied minors, far exceeding February’s totals and continuing an upward trend dating back to last year, according to preliminary data obtained by CNN.

The influx has strained government resources that had already been under stress during the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in overcrowded conditions at border facilities and children languishing in stations not suited for their care.

Roxana Rivera, 28, told CNN last month that she and her 6-year-old daughter had left Honduras after back-to-back November hurricanes destroyed her home and everything in it.

Word back home, Rivera said, was that the US was now allowing people with children to freely cross the border — which wasn’t entirely true. She heard that on the news, she said. Relatives in the US relayed the same information. Other migrants have similar stories.


On Thursday, the US embassy in Guatemala posted a testimonial on Twitter, showing a woman, whose face is blurred, describing her journey with smugglers. “We walked for five days and five nights. They would only give you canned food and we had run out of water,” she says, in Spanish. “You will suffer a lot on the way.” The video is intended to warn migrants not to put their lives at risk.

Even so, migrants continue to rely on smugglers. An immigration attorney shared a Facebook page with CNN where migrants corresponded in the comment section about linking up with a smuggler.

“Generally, [messages are] not being heard and the reason for that is because the push factors for that are so strong that people are willing to take the risk even if it’s a dangerous journey. They tune in more to their neighbors next door, their family, and smugglers,” said Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense, which works with unaccompanied migrant children.


“Different administrations have used ads, social media ads. But are those ads really penetrating?” said Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas. “The messages that are winning the day in the minds and hearts of immigrants, migrants, is … word on the street and smuggler messaging.”