Coyotes, migras and a $20 admission fee. Tips optional.
Each Saturday night at EcoAlberto Park in El Alberto, Mexico, tourists gather in groups awaiting a coyote to smuggle them across the U.S. border. The ritual takes place 400 miles south of the actual border. For $20, tourists — mostly middle class Mexicans — get to approximate the experience of hiding out in a truck, bushwhacking and jumping fences for four hours. The journey ends with the tourists on their knees, blinded by headlights as fake U.S. border patrol officers rush in for the arrest. The migra (immigration officers) strive to keep the experience realistic, firing gunshots, threatening and even hitting participants, though guards don’t punch too hard.
At a time, when American politicians are toughening their stance on Mexican immigration — Sen. John McCain recently called for the National Guard to seal parts of the U.S.-Mexican border — EcoAlberto’s guides are struggling to honor migrants who have left — and expose the reality of their dangerous journey. “Think about the things immigrants go through, walking through the desert with no water, no food, riding on the backs of trains,” the coyotes remind tourists while they stumble through the inky night without the benefit of flashlights.
One in 10 Mexicans migrate to the U.S. at some point in their lives and 1,400 cross the border every day. After growing for a decade, the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. has recently leveled off at 11.5 million due to increased border restrictions and fewer U.S. jobs.
The Mexican government helped fund EcoAlberto to discourage illegal border crossing. While its effectiveness as a deterrent is unknown, the jobs it has generated have given locals a reason to stay in El Alberto. Ten years ago, 90% of the town had left for the U.S. Since the park opened in 2004, more than half have returned, according to locals interviewed by the Vice Guide to Travel (see video below).
The park, run as a cooperative by the local Hñahñu people, also helps conserve the area’s natural beauty and serves as a venue for the Hñahñu to showcase their culture through the tours and artifacts for sale.
Amnesty International has criticized EcoAlberto for turning migrants’ struggles into theme-park style amusement, but organizers view the park as a kind of memorial to the estimated 6,000 people who have died over the past 15 years attempting to cross the border. Through the park, the people of El Alberto feel they are naming their loss and, paradoxically, rebuilding their community.