U.S. government releases song about the danger trains pose to migrants in an effort to stop illegal immigration

By Julia Willis

WASHINGTON –- While Central American leaders are attempting to confront the issues causing a flow of unaccompanied minors from leaving their countries, and the U.S. grapples with how to handle the surge, the federal government also has turned to music in an effort to impede illegal immigration.

A migrant travels north toward U.S. on a train in this file photo. (CNS photo/Reuters)

A migrant travels north toward U.S. on a train in this file photo. (CNS photo/Reuters)

As part of a new multimillion dollar “Danger Awareness Campaign,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioned the creation of a catchy Spanish song with the aim of discouraging families in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador from sending their children to the U.S. border after crossing through Mexico.

The song titled “La Bestia,” or “The Beast,” begins with the sounds of a train coming closer. As it speeds down the tracks, drums begin to play and the sounds of the locomotive are quickly replaced by a snappy Caribbean beat created by specialized xylophones.

The song tells the story of the “wretched train of death” that carries thousands of migrants each day from Mexico’s southern Chiapas state to cities farther north, where passengers are forced to get off and continue to the U.S. border by other means.

Although many believe that a ride on “The Beast From the South” is the only way to secure a better life for themselves and their families, the song’s lyrics tell a different tale. “With the devil in the boiler,” the train is compared to a menacing snake whose “womb of iron” threatens to swallow riders whole.

Passengers are described as cattle riding to “the slaughterhouse, taking hell’s route within a cloud of pain.”

Although the lyrics may instill fear in the heart of any listener, the song has become a surprise hit in Latin America. Playing on 21 radio stations across Central America, the song depicting the real dangers of migration seems to have won the hearts of many Latino listeners.

But just as the song says that the Beast “does not know about favors,” apparently neither do radio stations — listeners in the Latin American countries are not being told how or why the song was originally devised. Almost a “Truman Show” situation, the only people who seem to have recognized it as propaganda seem to be U.S. journalists.

Many news organizations have contacted the song’s composer, Carlo Nicolau, to ask him how he feels about working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection for this mission. “I thought I was going to bed with the Devil,” Nicolau told The Daily Beast, a news and opinion website. “But I’ve learned that a lot of (border control agents) are risking their lives to help people not die.”

What the song’s lyrics leave out is that gang members have hijacked all routes to the train and are charging potential passengers $100 or more to board “The Beast.” In addition, it neglects to mention that passengers are risking robbery, kidnapping, rape and murder.

The most shocking aspect of the song is that it is not the first that the U.S. government has commissioned aimed at potential migrants. In 2009, the Border Patrol released “El Mas Grande Enemigo,” or “The Biggest Enemy,” on a five-song CD that aimed to convince Mexican listeners of the dangers of attempting to cross into the U.S. illegally.

International newspapers report migration situation with blend of truth, hope

Guatemalan migrants deported from U.S. arrive at airport in Guatemala City. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Guatemalan migrants deported from U.S. arrive at airport in Guatemala City. (CNS photo/Reuters)

By Julia Willis

WASHINGTON -– Amid all the U.S. news media reports on the humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border with the influx of children and adults, we decided to take a look at how the local press in Central America is reporting on the situation.

As gang violence remains rampant throughout El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras -– one of the drivers for migrants coming into the U.S. — local newspapers seem to be doing their best to maintain a sense of hope in the articles they publish.

While daily news outlets such as El Universal in Mexico have a duty to report the truth regarding the dangers of migration and the likelihood of deportation, they also attempt to encourage Latin Americans by focusing on small victories in the fight for U.S. immigration reform and increased relief services for migrant populations.

Although U.S. Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Virginia, who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, expressed his support for increased deportation of migrants in a recent interview with ABC News, El Universal presented a positive twist on the story in a July 14 article titled ‘Congress ready to give more funds.’

“I would definitely pass emergency funding targeted for what’s necessary,” Goodlatte said, “but most of the money that the president is asking for is to continue the process of further transporting these children and adults further into the United States. And that, I think, is what the American people don’t like to see because they know that that is not deterrence and that will result in even more people coming into the country. The projection for next year is 150,000 unaccompanied minors. It’s already projected to be more than 90,000 for the rest of this year.”

Other news outlets have attempted to describe the difficult process of deportation by highlighting the help that individuals receive once they have been returned to their home country. Media also is reporting that various agencies of local governments in Central America are meeting to assess the ongoing situation and discuss solutions.

El Heraldo, a daily newspaper in Honduras, reported a story about the first 18 mothers and 22 children returning to Honduras from the U.S. by focusing on the support that the Catholic and Protestant churches provide for these individuals in a July 14 article.

“We are working to develop a reception plan that first and foremost makes these families feel welcome,” said Ana Garcia de Hernandez, the first lady of Honduras. “In order to do this, we have asked for the support of the church, both Catholic and Protestant, so that each returning flight has that spiritual accompaniment, because these families are enduring a very difficult emotional situation.”

As young children continue to disappear throughout Central America, Prensa Libre, a daily newspaper in Guatemala, showcases stories about kidnapped children being reunited with their families and Pope Francis’ thoughts about the “humanitarian emergency.”

Although all of the Spanish-language papers I read described the suffering that migrants endure as they attempt to flee violence in their home countries, they also featured articles promoting hope and encouraging their people to look forward to peace and security in the future.

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