Border enforcement includes “a pro-active public affairs posture”—meaning news releases relating to interdictions, prosecutions, and incarcerations—because media are integral to “a strategic, focused, and targeted prosecutions initiative that is specifically designed to achieve deterrence of illegal entries.”[1]

In addition to the deterrence efforts of the Caribbean Border Interagency Group, the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo ran a three-year public-awareness campaign to dissuade yola migration. The project was initiated in response to a large increase in migrant flow during the early months of 2004. The campaign included posters, billboards, public service announcements on television and radio, a recorded song, taxi-window announcements, coasters for distribution in clubs, and bottle bags for distribution in colmados (neighborhood grocery stores). The stated goal was to reduce yola migration by raising awareness of the risks, of the profiteering of criminal organizations, and of the reality of migrant life abroad (labor exploitation, solitude, illegality), but the campaign deterred mostly through appeal to the fear of death at sea. The dominant images were sharks, coffins, and headstones, and the general theme of the campaign was “Los viajes ilegales son viajes a la muerte” (“Illegal trips are trips to death”).[2]

In three annual campaigns beginning in 2004, the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo took publicity-as-deterrence to another level by appeal to migrants’ fear of death at sea. Three of the images offer variations on a theme, “What you see as a yola is a collective coffin.” The image with headstones reads, “Nothing is worse than dying….” The text on the shark image is, “Don’t feed the sharks.” All of the posters include, at the bottom, the campaign theme: “Illegal trips are trips to death.” Courtesy of the U.S. Embassy, Santo Domingo.

The second year of the campaign, 2005, featured the collaboration of the merengue star Juan Luis Guerra. The campaign slogan—“tu mejor sueño está en tu patria” (“your best dream is in your country”)—alluded to Guerra’s famous song “Visa para un sueño” (“Visa for a Dream”). Other key messages of the campaign included “no te dejes engañar” (“don’t be fooled”) and “no desperdicies tu vida” (“don’t waste your life” ). (No te dejes engañar was also used in 2010 and 2011 as the title of a Customs and Border Protection awareness campaign regarding human trafficking.) In the ceremony that launched this second year of the campaign, Ambassador Hans Hertell and other presenters stressed the organized criminality of migrant smugglers. That discourse continued when the third year was launched in October, 2006. Ambassador Hertell also reported that despite the campaigns in the previous two years and other combined U.S.-Dominican efforts, the number of yola migrants had not decreased.[3]

The Embassy also did a campaign to deter the use of fraudulent documents to obtain nonimmigrant visas. The poster and recorded public-service announcement warn that the use of such documents results in loss of one’s money and in being permanently barred from entry into the United States. Courtesy of the U. S. Embassy, Santo Domingo.

This PowerPoint presentation, which was shown to Embassy personnel by the public-relations firm that designed the campaigns, provides an overview of the first phase in 2004. Courtesy of the U. S. Embassy, Santo Domingo.

[1] The first quoted passage is from United States Coast Guard, Maritime Law Enforcement Manual, Chapter 6: “Immigration Law Enforcement” (undated, post-2003), 6-3. The second quoted passage is from Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice, “Partnerships for Success: Caribbean Border Interagency Group” (San Juan, undated, circa 2007), 5.

[2] Public relations campaigns have been done elsewhere. To deter an increase in maritime migration from Haiti in late 2001, U.S. public-service announcements assured rapid repatriation and warned of dangers at sea. See Christopher Mitchell, “The Impact of 9/11 on Migration Relations Between the Caribbean and the United States” in Caribbean Security in the Age of Terror: Challenge and Change, ed. Ivelaw Lloyd Griffith Kingston (Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 2004), 363. The Department of Homeland Security hired an advertising agency to write, record, and distribute a CD, “Migra Corridos,” intended similarly to deter migration. It was recorded in 2006 and distributed to radio stations in Mexico and, according to one article, in Central America and the Dominican Republic; another CD was recorded in 2009. In Puerto Rico, the Oficina de Asuntos Dominicanos launched a “No a la yola” campaign in early 2009.

Regarding a Dominican-government campaign “to discourage illegal emigration and combat human trafficking,” see Department of State, 2009 Human Rights Report, Section 6 “Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons” (March 11, 2010), npn.

[3] For a summary of the event that launched the third-year campaign, see “Embajador EE UU dice delincuentes controlan viajes ilegales,” Diario Dominicano (November 1, 2006).