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Mexican guide aiding illegal US entry decried

MONTERREY, Mexico -- The Mexican government is distributing a comic-book guide that warns would-be migrants about the perils of crossing illegally into the United States and offers tips to stay safe -- enraging some advocates of stricter immigration policies in the United States who argue the booklet encourages illegal migration.

About 1.5 million copies of the pocket-size book titled ''Guide for the Mexican Immigrant" were published by Mexico's Foreign Relations Department and distributed as a free supplement in comic books popular with adults that are sold throughout the country.

The comic book's introduction shows an illustration of three men huddling by riverbank bushes accompanied by the statement, ''This guide is intended to give you some practical advice that could be of use if you already have made the difficult decision to seek new job opportunities outside your country."

Each year, as would-be migrants start considering a trip north, the Mexican government launches radio or television campaigns to inform them about the risks they'll face along the US-Mexican border.

This year, the Foreign Relations Department decided to add the guide as a way of ''trying to provide the information directly" in the would-be migrants' home communities, said Geronimo Gutierrez, the department's deputy secretary for North American affairs. ''Once they reach the border, it's very difficult for them to change their minds."

The booklet, which officials began distributing last month, explains the safest way to enter the United States is the legal way, with a US visa and a Mexican passport. But it also offers tips on avoiding serious injury or death to those who have decided to cross illegally.

On one page appears a drawing of people walking near power lines, with the hint, ''If you get lost, guide yourself with light poles, train tracks, or dirt roads."

''Crossing a river can be very risky, especially if you cross alone and at night," the booklet warns. ''Heavy clothing becomes heavier when wet, and this makes swimming or floating difficult."

Critics say the tips serve more as instructions on how to cross illegally than as a deterrent to would-be migrants.

''With this document the Mexican government not only has not instructed its citizens to obey immigration law but, in rich detail, it has supplied a manual on how to circumvent US immigration law," said John Keeley of the US-based Center for Immigration Studies, which favors stricter immigration policies.

Editorials in several US papers sharply criticized the comic book. The Arizona Republic called it ''an illustrated guide to Mexico's domestic failures" and The Washington Times asked that the US government file an official complaint.

The US State Department issued a statement saying it had not contacted the Mexican government about the comic book, and it praised recent cooperation between the countries to improve safety.

The Mexican government has been criticized often for not doing more to stop the flow of illegal migrants. But officials say they can do little, because while aiding illegal crossings for a fee is a crime, there's no Mexican law stopping migrants from gathering near the northern border.

In the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, there were 325 migrant deaths along the US-Mexican border, according to the US Customs and Border Protection Bureau.

Braulio Munoz, 42, has tried twice in the past 13 days to cross the US border illegally with his son. He said he hadn't seen the guide but doubted anything would discourage them from attempting a third swim across the Rio Grande. ''In Jalisco there isn't any work," he said. ''God willing, we'll make it to the United States -- even if they kick us out 15 times."

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