AUSTIN, TEXAS — Some radio stations provide traffic reports or details of a coming thunderstorm. In San Antonio, KROM-FM alerts listeners when the Border Patrol is in the area.
It's a running gag on the morning show called "Matty y Ramon en la Manana," where listeners call the station and tell it where they've seen limones verdes or "green limes" around town.
Green limes? "That's like a code word," says Roger Leal, the station's program director. "Verdes, because they wear green uniforms, and limones, because if they catch you, they'll sour your whole day."
"It's all in fun," he adds. "People love that cat-and-mouse game."
No one, not even the Border Patrol, says these alerts have any effect on the enforcement of immigration laws. Even so, the humor reflects deeper beliefs and attitudes, and even something as lighthearted as a limones verdes report speaks volumes - in positive and troubling ways - about the mind-set in the Southwest.
"The fact that they are broadcasting it is an interesting twist," says Luis Plascencia, associate director of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Texas in Austin.
But aside from the modern technology involved, he says, this is just a continuation of the same Western sensibility that cheered on lawbreakers like Jesse James, Bonnie and Clyde, and - for that matter - Robin Hood.
The idea for KROM's limones verdes alerts came from a listener, says Mr. Leal.
"A guy called in to say his buddy was being deported, and he asked if maybe we could say goodbye to him over the air. We said, why not?" he laughs. "Actually, I think we said to the [deportee] 'See you next week.' "
OK to be illegal
Outside observers say the radio station's activities are a sign of how much illegal immigration has become a part of the American cultural parlance.
"With the San Antonio radio station broadcasting reports on the Border Patrol, we are seeing the results of our contradictory policies toward immigration," says Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington. "We have put in place a system that promotes large-scale legal and illegal migration from Mexico, and at the same time we want to have a sovereign border."
Noting that the station is doing nothing illegal, he still worries that efforts to curb illegal immigration are being cheapened by the fact that no one is speaking out against the show. "That sends a message: Illegal isn't really all that illegal," he says.
For their part, Border Patrol officials say the alerts don't affect their ability to do their job. After all, San Antonio is a large city of 1.3 million inhabitants; only eight of them are Border Patrol agents. And by the time the information goes over the air - the radio station records the calls, edits them, and broadcasts them 15 minutes after the agents are first sited - the Border Patrol activity is generally finished.
Besides, there are other, more reliable ways for immigrants to hear about Immigration and Naturalization Service raids.
For instance, Mr. Plascencia of the Tomas Rivera Institute says he used to get a few hours notice before any raid in Austin through his friend, the owner of a taco stand.
Right before a raid, the INS would call up this taco vendor to order enough food for 30 people, to feed captured migrants in those few hours before buses arrived to carry them back to the border.
"So through a taco order," Plascencia chuckles, "you knew what was going to happen. You just didn't know where."
Joke's on whom?
As far as the KROM program goes, Border Patrol agents say they've been called worse things than a "sour lime." Even so, some officials say they don't see the humor in these alerts.
"It's not in good humor, and it's not in good taste, but I'm not going to get all excited about it," says Richard Marroquin, deputy chief for the Border Patrol's Laredo sector, which includes San Antonio. "I think it's a lack of professionalism on their part.... But I have no jurisdiction over that."
But Leal says he'll keep the routine going as long as the phone calls keep coming.
"We're a radio station, and our listeners enjoy it," he says. As for the Border Patrol, he adds, "We've heard through the press that they have a sense of humor, too."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society