12/22/11— 350 Mexicans and Mexican-Americans made their way safely home for the holidays on Tuesday as part of the “Bienvenido Paisano 2011” caravan, according to El Universal. While many of these émigrés had no concerns about exiting or re-entering the United States, security conditions in the Mexican border territories motivated them to schedule Christmas plans so as to travel under the special escort of federal police (Policía Federal Preventiva), army, and some municipal police officials.
The 75 trucks making up the caravan took 17 hours to make what is normally an eight or nine hour journey from Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas—-on the Texas border, just south of San Antonio—-to Jalpan de Serra, Querétaro. Participants interviewed did not mind the delay, however, as the caravan allayed their fears of “criminal gangs” and “extortions” while passing through notoriously conflictive areas, such as Río Verde, close to San Luis Potosí. The group also enjoyed coverage from the Secretary of Tourism’s Green Angels (Ángeles Verdes), which stood by ready to provide roadside assistance in case of vehicular failures.
Although the caravan officially disbanded in Querétaro, some participants had separated from the main group 50 miles or so before the final destination—-particularly once drivers began to slow down to greet onlookers. Other trucks continued on to other areas of the country after completing the route.
Juan Fernando Rocha Mier, representative to the Querétaro legislature, explained to W Radio that he has organized this caravan for two years in a row now. He started it in response to constituents’ frustration in his high migrant-sending district at a lack of government support for loved who had to cross increasingly violent border zones to reach home each year. Rocha Mier expressed satisfaction at the Caravan’s improved internal organization this year, but lamented abuses at the hands of customs officials that returning Mexicans continue to experience all too frequently.
Hector Morán, a Mexican who has been living and working as a ranch hand near Austin, Texas for decades, helps organize the caravan participants in Texas each year. He is thankful for the program because, “in my thirty-three years as an immigrant, up through today, no one has ever has ever showed concern for this paisano (‘countryman’ returning home), and now [Rocha Mier] has lent us a hand.”
The president of the Commission for Migrant Affairs of the Querétaro state legislature, Belem Junco Márquez, had planned to ride with the caravan, but never arrived at its starting point because of flight complications. Fittingly, his flight was re-routed at the last minute to a different airport, due to reported gunfire near the Nuevo Laredo airport.
Shortly after arriving in Querétero, Caravan organizers met to prepare their return journey to the United States, slated for January 2. Many only visit briefly because of children’s school or extra-curricular commitments back in the United States. The return caravan will be smaller, however, as other returning Mexicans stay in Mexico longer, particularly those who reside in the northern areas where work may not resume until the snow melts.
On a related holiday note, Luis Wertman, president of the Citizen’s Council for Public Security in Mexico City (Consejo Ciudadano de Seguridad Pública) reported to Radio W that the holidays increase vulnerability to phone extortion in Mexico. The Citizen’s Council’s anti-extortion hotline (55 33 55 33) receives elevated numbers of Christmas season reports of extortions based on a relative returning home from abroad. The extortionist will often impersonate such a relative, calling to tell the victim he is stuck somewhere in his travels, and needs money to make it home. Other times, the extortionist identifies himself as a police official who has detained the relative, and who will keep the relative out of jail only if the victim sends money right away.
After the fact, extortion victims often realize that they themselves, at the beginning of the phone call, provided the extortionist with the information later used to entrap them. For this reason, the Citizen’s Council recommends Mexicans to exercise extreme caution at the beginning of any call from abroad, and, if possible, to insist in returning the call to the relative, to ensure identity. Other common holiday phone extortion traps involve extortionists who call to inform the victim that he or she has won some kind of holiday contest or raffle, but that personal or bank information is needed to transfer the prize.
Joel Ortega, president of the advocacy group Citizenship and Democracy (Ciudadanía y Democracia) and former Secretary of Public Security for Mexico City (Secretaria de Seguridad Pública), warned W Radio listeners of safety concerns associated with the distribution of Christmas bonuses. All too many workers are robbed, he explains, as they tote cash-stuffed envelopes around the city on the way home, or shopping. He recommends requesting an electronic transfer of the bonus. He also advises Mexicans not to carry the entire cash bonus with them on one shopping trip, but rather to plan on spending only a portion of the money at a time. As a final piece of Christmas advice from Ortega, all would do well to avoid publishing vacation plans on social networks, like Facebook, as this can contribute to home burglaries during the holiday season.