EL PASO – The length of the Arizona-Sonora, México border runs for only 389 miles, but the human stories on both sides of that line are countless.
The documentary “389 Miles: Living the Border” by director/producer Luis Carlos Davis, explores the ongoing struggles of Mexican citizens who try to cross the border to get to the U.S. The documentary had a recent showing at the University of Texas at El Paso followed by a panel discuss that included university professors, students and the director of the film.
“Something I really wanted to do when I started this project was to be really open hear what everyone had to say,” Davis said. “This is not a black and white situation. It has many layers. When you do something black and white you can come up with a conclusion, but when you hear all the sides you see there is more to the story.”
In order to cross the border, many migrants use the help of smugglers paying a very steep fee. According to a smuggler who wished to remain anonymous in the film, people smugglers can make more than $200,000 in a year.
“A lot of coyotes are U.S. citizens and force them (migrants) to pay cash and then if they can’t come up with the money they are held hostage. This happens here in El Paso, Nogales and many other cities,” said Irasema Coronado, UTEP associate provost and political science professor.
One of the featured groups is the Mexican Migrant Protection Agency, which tries to aid and protect immigrants that cross the border. While the film also focused on The Minuteman Project, which is a vigilance group of U.S. citizens that is trying to enforce immigration laws on the border.
According to Davis, a big problem migrants face when coming to the U.S. is being left behind by the coyotes because they are old or have young children with them. Since many make their way to the U.S. led by smugglers, some of the dangers and struggles they face are dehydration, exhaustion and for women the likely possibility of rape.
“They (migrants) face a lot of dangers when they are out,” Davis said. “There are criminals that hide in the desert and rob these people of their money or whatever belongs they brought with them. Especially women are in danger because the coyotes will take advantage of them and rape them. This is a very dangerous journey for them.”
As smugglers lead the groups of immigrants, there are many incidents where families get separated. One woman featured in the film talks about how she is still searching for her husband in the U.S. and is not sure if he was deported back to México.
“This is not a unique situation. This a common story because they put you in a detention facility in Oklahoma, Arkansas, San Diego and if there is not a place to put a family then they are separated and that is how people get lost,” Coronado said. “If you go to border cities like Nogales, you will see signs of people trying to find their family members.”
During the panel discussion, many in attendance spoke out on what they believe to be some of the many causes of the current situation migrants face. These included many people that blamed a lack of effort by the U.S. government and their apathetic attitude towards migrants’ struggles. One of the biggest issues brought up in the panel discussion was the need for new policies by the U.S. government.
Ana Morales, sociology graduate student, said one of the key ways to end the violence in México and help people that want to come to America is changing current U.S. drug and economic policies.
“The U.S. is playing a huge role in the violence in México right now,” Morales said. “We need to raise awareness of what is going on and show people that U.S. policies are having a big affect over there.”
For more information on “389 Miles: Living the Border,” visit 389miles.com.