The Biden administration is blitzing social media in Guatemala and Honduras with advertisements meant to deter people from migrating to the United States and crossing the border illegally.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced on Wednesday that it began a cross-border digital ad campaign targeting the two Central American countries, the points of origin for many migrants, ahead of the anticipated end of Title 42, the pandemic policy for turning away migrants at the border.
"The ads deliver a clear message: Smugglers are lying to you. The fact is that entering the United States illegally is a crime. The ads highlight smugglers, known as ‘coyotes,’ who take advantage of and profit from vulnerable migrants," CBP said in a press release.
CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said the campaign was part of the Biden administration's efforts to deter illegal migration. Border Patrol has rescued more migrants over the past year and a half than any other time on record, while deaths in custody or while being apprehended have also risen.
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The ads are in Spanish, with English text at the bottom. They warn: "The coyote lied to us. Entering the USA illegally is a crime. Say no to the coyote."
Others state the coyotes took a child or father away from a family and warn not to let the coyotes "destroy" other families. A fourth ad says that the coyote "swindled" the migrants out of money. Each ad contains a link to a U.S. government website that has more information urging migrants not to pay cartels to smuggle them into the U.S.
The ads will run through mid-July. The administration did not say how much was being spent on the campaign.
In less than two weeks, the Biden administration is slated to stop using Title 42, which allowed the immediate turning away of all migrants who illegally crossed the border or sought asylum at a port of entry. The Biden administration has predicted as many as 18,000 migrants could attempt to cross the border each day in the six weeks after Title 42 ends on May 23, though a federal judge has indicated plans to delay that.
Encounters of migrants at the border have fluctuated through the decades between 1,000 and 7,000 per day. At present, border authorities are taking in up to 8,000 people daily, though that does not include people who cross and evade arrest.
Despite Title 42 still being in effect, the Biden administration has not returned all illegal migrants and has instead sent back just over half, releasing others into the U.S. on parole or another temporary basis pending appearances in immigration court.
This is not the first time that CBP has run ads to deter migrants, and its effectiveness has been called into question in the past.
Political pressure from the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border in early 2021 pushed President Joe Biden to launch a different ad campaign in January 2021, with tens of thousands of radio ads in Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in Spanish, Portuguese, and six indigenous languages. The ads played on 33 radio stations, reaching an estimated 15 million individuals, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a press briefing at the time.
Psaki presented the ads as a meaningful example of actions taken by the Biden administration to help stem the tide of illegal migrants.
The anti-illegal immigration ads that federal agencies air in Central American countries are useless, former senior Trump officials told the Washington Examiner in 2021, undercutting one of the Biden administration's defenses of its border policies. Some liberal immigrant groups also said the ads do not stop migrants from coming to the U.S. and added that there is no research to support their efficacy.
Former Trump administration officials who dealt with border and migration issues say the technique, which has been used in varying forms since the Obama administration and was used by the Trump administration, has very limited effectiveness and should end.
“We analyzed the ads internally, and the results always showed the limited effectiveness of them,” said Chad Wolf, former acting secretary of Homeland Security, in an interview with the Washington Examiner.
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He added that although tracking the effectiveness of a large number of ads was “hard to do,” internal Homeland Security data show the number of illegal immigrants didn’t decrease thanks to the ads. Furthermore, qualitative data collected in migrant interviews also show the ads were not effective, he said.
Nihal Krishan contributed to this report.