American outrage over DIY handbook for illegal immigrants

Conservative groups in the United States have been outraged by an illustrated handbook issued by Mexican authorities that gives migrants tips on how to cross America's southern border illegally.

The books, denounced by some as "how-to manuals", urge would-be immigrants to carry enough water, follow railway lines and wear clothing that will protect them from the elements. To those planning to brave the Rio Grande, the government-sponsored guide advises: "Crossing a river can be very risky, especially if you cross alone and at night. Heavy clothing becomes heavier when wet and this makes swimming or floating difficult."

Migrants are told: "If you get lost, guide yourself with light posts, train tracks or dirt roads," and warned to avoid smugglers known as "coyotes". Immigrants are also told not to resist arrest by Border Patrol officers.

About 400 immigrants died along the border in 2002, a 10 per cent increase on 2001, and in the past two years 125 people have died in the Arizona desert.

Mexican officials said the 32-page booklet informs those who have already decided to cross on how to avoid injury and death. But the handbook's publication has unleashed a torrent of condemnation from activists already concerned at the porous nature of the border. "It's an encouragement that will lead to more illegal aliens coming," said Rick Oltman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, adding that there will be "more tragic deaths".

Diana Hall, the director of California For Population Stabilisation, another anti-immigration group, said: "As long as there is a big wage discrepancy between Mexico and the United States, people are going to come to the country illegally and this guide encourages that."

Alfonso Nieto, a Mexican embassy spokesman in Washington DC, said: "The idea is to reduce the number of people who die in the attempt." One million copies have been distributed across Mexico, as well as online and at Mexican consulates in the US.

Officials in Mexico and the US say increased Border Patrol activities have prompted people to take riskier routes through deserts and over mountains.

The US has produced literature about the dangers of illegal crossings, but, said Andy Adame, a spokesman for the Border Patrol in Tucson, Arizona: "We tell them that they are going to walk five days in 110-degree heat. That's the reality and we don't sugarcoat it."

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