Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Santa Claus brigade hits the highway in San Luis Potosí

Mexicans traveling from the U.S. to San Luis Potosí for the holiday season will once again be greeted by friendly Santas. In what has become an annual tradition, transit police in Santa Claus costumes will offer information and aid to visiting migrants in Soledad, San Luis Potosí.

One such “Santa cop” is Gerardo Ontiveros, who is participating in the program for the sixth time. He said that while wearing the Santa suit is hot and uncomfortable, seeing the joy on children’s faces makes it worth it year after year. Sometimes children even give the police letters for Santa, he said.

“The happiness of the children is what motivates most. It makes people happy. They stop to take photos with us,” Ontiveros said.

Part of the federal Héroes Paisanos (Compatriot Heroes) program, the initiative is designed to help Mexican migrants returning home from the north for the holidays, but the Santas are likely to end up helping migrants of other nationalities as well. In 2021, the municipality of Soledad — the second largest in the state and located right next to the state capital — expects to receive 10,000 returning Mexican citizens.  The state is also likely to host more than 50,000 migrants passing through in caravans as they head north from the southern border.

Mauricio Ordaz, director of transit and road security in Soledad, said the Santa cop program is first and foremost a humanitarian effort. The police who participate receive special training from the national and state human rights commissions, the state Attorney General’s Office and immigration authorities.

Heroes Paisano program
A member of Soledad’s Social Proximity police force awaits traveling migrants in a center set up for them to get information, food, medical aid and rest.

The Soledad program, which started this year on December 8 and runs 24 hours a day, includes 30 participating officers who will provide medical aid, food and rest areas to whoever needs them, as well as information on safe traveling routes.

“They are motorcycle police who receive our fellow citizens in a more sensitive way, without the extreme repression that there was before. [Returning citizens] used to expect to be sanctioned,” Ordaz said.

But with teams of Santas on motorcycles providing aid and prompting smiles, that perception is likely changing.

With reports from El Universal and El Sol de San Luis

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