MEXICO CITY – A Mexican government commission said Tuesday it will distribute at least 70,000 maps showing highways, rescue beacons and water tanks in the Arizona desert to curb the death toll among illegal border crossers.
The National Human Rights Commission, a government-funded agency with independent powers, denied the maps — similar to a comic-style guide booklet Mexico distributed to migrants last year — would encourage illegal immigration.
Officials said the maps would help guide those in trouble find rescue beacons and areas with cell phone reception. The maps will also show the distance a person can walk in the desert in a single day.
"We are not trying in any way to encourage or promote migration," said Mauricio Farah, one of the commission's national inspectors. "The only thing we are trying to do is warn them of the risks they face and where to get water, so they don't die."
But some advocates of greater immigration control were irritated by the map announcement.
"What's next? Are they going to buy them bus tickets to Chicago?" said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based think tank. "It's clearly a bad thing for Mexico to be encouraging illegal immigration."
The comic booklet for migrants was distributed by the government in early 2005 and warned of the perils of crossing illegally into the United States, while offering tips to stay safe.
The booklet, of which about 1.5 million were printed, enraged some advocates of stricter immigration policies in the United States who argue that it encouraged illegal migration.
Farah said his commission was simply trying to prevent deaths and estimated that around 500 Mexicans died trying to cross the border in 2005. Many die in the desert, where summer temperatures soar above 100 degrees, and many drown while attempting to cross the Rio Grande river.
The commission plans to hang the poster-size maps in March in places where migrants will see them, such as migrant-aid groups, the commission's offices and in Mexican border towns.
They were designed by the Tucson, Ariz.-based rights group Humane Borders, which operates some of the desert water stations. The group previously distributed about 100 posters in the Mexican border town of Sasabe.
Rev. Robin Hoover, president of Humane Borders, said maps are needed in southern Mexico so migrants can weigh the risks before leaving home.
Some of the posters have warnings, such as "Don't go. There isn't enough water."
However, officials conceded many migrants were unlikely to heed the advice.
Farah said migration "is a human right" and that "the United States should be grateful" the commission is doing something to curb the death toll, because "hundreds of thousands of Mexicans help maintain their economy."
Mexicans working in the United States are a huge source of revenue for Mexico, sending home more than $16 billion in remittances in 2004, Mexico's second largest source of foreign currency after oil exports according to the country's central bank.