When it comes to scaring visitors, amusement parks traditionally vie to outdo each other with extreme roller-coasters and ever-spookier haunted houses.
But an amusement park in the central Mexican state of Hidalgo has been successfully frightening park visitors – at about $20 a pop – with a three to four hour “Night Walk” that simulates an illegal border crossing from Mexico into the United States.
During the experience, visitors at Parque EcoAlberto, located about 800 miles from the actual Mexico-U.S. border, are led by fake smugglers on a seven mile hike that includes climbing over fences and trying to steer clear of barking dogs, flashlight beams and other obstructions in an effort to elude fake border patrol officers.
“There are a wide variety of unique, interesting and bizarre experiences being cooked up to put people through at amusement parks,” said Robert Niles, editor of Theme Park Insider. “This goes beyond taking someone to a haunted house and having someone jump out at them; this is taking it a new level that we don’t ordinarily see.”
Park officials say the goal of creating this attraction is to generate income for the local community and discourage young people from leaving town by showing them how dangerous and difficult an illegal crossing can be. "Our objective is to stop the immigration that exists amongst our citizens, principally from the state of Mexico to the U.S." Maribel Garcia, a park administrator, said in a PBS report.
But if a bill passed today in the U.S. Senate, promising a sweeping overhaul of the country’s immigration system moves forward, park officials may have to redesign some aspects of the Night Walk attraction.
While the bill would double the number of border patrol agents and add 700 miles of fencing along the U.S. border, the legislation would also make it much easier for millions of undocumented immigrants to gain legal status and citizenship in the U.S.
At least one anti-immigration group in the U.S. side can see the merit of the Night Walk. Ira Mehlman, spokesman for Washington, D.C.-based FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a non-profit group that advocates for tighter controls on immigration, said, “If the intent is to discourage people from doing it – from risking their lives and violating immigration laws – then it’s a worthwhile attraction.”