US taxpayers are spending nearly a million dollars to erect giant billboards in Guatemala City and around the Central American country, urging residents not to believe that they can solve their problems by trying to enter the U.S. illegally, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
The billboards warn of the dangers of families putting themselves into the hands of human smugglers who are linked to Mexico's infamous drug cartels, and discuss the problems that they will face trying to enter the U.S. and receive permission to stay.
They are told that they will have to pay as much as $7,000 to a smuggler, more than the average annual wage in Guatemala, just to get to the U.S., and if they are deported, which is likely, the cartels don't grant refunds.
But Stephanie Leutert, who heads the Mexico Security Initiative at the University of Texas, doubts it will be effective.
She says the same thing was tried after the 'unaccompanied minors' surge in 2014, and that didn't work either.
"If you just track numbers, from 2015 to 2016, the numbers actually went up," she told 1200 WOAI's Michael Board. "There's a lot that goes into it, but these actions don't seem to have much of an effect."
She says people in Central America are already well aware of the risks of trying to get to the U.S. and entering illegally, but that seldom figures into their decision making.
"That's not how people make their decisions," she said. "It not like they're unaware of the risks. People get their information from people who have done it before."
Leutert says a much more powerful motivator is seeing people from their village or people they know posting on social media pictures of their successful journey to the United States, and their new home in America.
Factors that dictate decisions to try to enter the U.S. illegally also include the reign of brutal gangs in Guatemala which routinely enlist young people and threaten to kill their families if they don't sign up, the grinding poverty and the dynfunctional governments in places like Venezuela, and endless civil wars in countries like Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which leave people with no hope for a normal life.
The human smugglers also actively recruit in places like Guatemala, because charging people to take them to America is how they make their profits.