2013-06-27

This Mexican Amusement Park Offers A Simulated Illegal Border Crossing To Guests

You won’t find rollercoasters at the Parque EcoAlberto. The ride is much more thrilling, and comes with fences and angry border guards.

Illegally crossing the border from Mexico to the U.S. is a harrowing and sometimes life-threatening experience. Want to try it?

The Parque EcoAlberto, a park in the Mexican state of Hildalgo that’s part of the indigenous HñaHñu community, offers visitors a taste of what it’s like to make an illegal border crossing without putting them in any real danger. The park is almost 800 miles from the real border.

Visitors are treated to a realistic four-hour mock border crossing, complete with fake border control officers, smugglers, dogs, sirens, and chases. People who get caught while doing the mock crossing aren’t imprisoned, obviously, but UK Metro says they can be punished with "a few bruises and a little discomfort."

The whole weirdly thrilling attraction costs just $20. But it’s not intended for Americans or other foreigners who want to see what Mexicans go through to leave the country. Instead, the park hopes to reach locals who are considering illegal immigration to the U.S. Maribel Garcia, a park administrator, explains the attraction to PBS NewsHour:

Garcia says traditionally this region subsisted on agriculture, but that wasn’t bringing the community what it needed.

"Because we didn’t have sewer systems, light, telephone, roads," she said.

So people went north. The HñaHñu community has lost about 80 percent of its population to the U.S., Garcia estimates, mainly to Arizona and Nevada. Garcia says it was the HñaHñu youth returning home after crossing the real border who thought up this tourist attraction as a way to create income for the community and encourage others to stay in Mexico.

As the U.S. ramps up border control efforts, many Mexicans are reportedly deciding to stay home anyway. The Parque EcoAlberto will only intensify that trend—as long as visitors don’t use it as a training ground for a real border crossing. From PBS:

Titi, who also works as a coyote on the Night Walks, was emphatic that it was not training for future generations.

"We try to help people so that they won’t leave," Titi said in Spanish. "It’s time to create some employment, to work with our own and regenerate everything, or at least what we can, even though it might be slow going."

The park isn’t sure how effective the border crossing simulation has been in preventing Mexicans from doing the real thing (especially since guests tend to be middle schoolers and private school students, who aren’t likely to cross the border anyway), but many thousands of people have passed through.

For visitors seeking a getaway that’s a little less likely to bring future nightmares, the park also offers cabins and river rafting.

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