Immigration. What are your first thoughts when you read or hear that word? Many Americans have a strong opinion on it either in favor of reform or completely against reform – or the whole immigration process. One part of the conversation that is missing is the migrant's experience to get to the United States. The TV show BORDERLAND on Al Jazeera America addresses that piece. This reality-type TV show takes a look at the immigrant's journey to the U.S. in a very real way.
The American participants in BORDERLAND first meet in Arizona with little in common except for strong opinions about undocumented immigrants. The show features Alison Melder a Republican staffer in the Arkansas State Legislature; Alex Seel, a Brooklyn-based photographer and artist; Washington rancher Gary Larsen, who employs undocumented workers on his asparagus farm; Kishana Holland, a fashion blogger and publicist from Las Vegas; Lis-Marie Alvarado, daughter of legal immigrants from Nicaragua and an activist and community organizer on behalf of day laborers in Florida, and Randy Stufflebeam, Vice Chairman of the Constitution Party which opposes immigration into the U.S.
Photo credit: Twitter @AJAMPresents
The group of six begins with spending time at the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office in Tucson, Arizona. The morgue’s freezer shows the consequence of U.S. immigration policies: over the last 15 years – over 5,000 have died entering the U.S. The participants stay in the desert for a short time with the humanitarian group No More Deaths. They learn that while drug smugglers create problems for ranchers, most of the migrants are looking for work or to be reunited with family. (The American group also learns first hand from ranchers who have to deal with drug cartels.)
The group is paired in three separate couples and each couple is assigned one deceased migrant from the Pima County Morgue. (Read more about the three deceased migrants here.) They begin a journey to try and understand what it was like for each migrant to travel to the U.S. border. They groups arrive in Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador to meet the families and acquaintances of the deceased migrants. This experience begins to humanize each migrant. They learn how families are dealing with the death of their loved ones and a little more about what the migrants' lives were like before they decided to leave for the U.S.
The most eye-opening part of the series is when the American group actually travels on 'The Beast' – the term used for the freight trains that travel through Mexico of which many migrants ride on the top. Earlier this year at Cine Festival, I watched a movie called La Jaula de Oro, a Cannes Film Festival Award Winner about three young Guatemalans who make the trek to the U.S. border. During the movie I kept thinking to myself: This is just a movie. This is just a movie. The youngsters face gang violence, death, abuse and theft. It's a heart-breaking story.
BORDERLAND confirmed that the story in La Jaula de Oro isn't far from the truth. According to BORDERLAND, each year over 500,000 people risk their lives on 'The Beast'. It's estimated 80% of them are assaulted; 60% of the women are raped; and only 40% of them make it to their destination. Many women are injected with an IUD birth control before they begin because they understand that there is a high possibility that they will be raped.
The Americans are surprised by the calmness of the migrants who are about to board 'The Beast' and even their attitude of contentment throughout the taxing travel experience. They are amazed that it isn't just single people but parents with young children. That is until they realize that the migrants' attitude is one of hope. 'The Beast' represents hope for migrants who are hoping to leave behind life as they know it and begin their American dream.
At the end of this four-part series on Al Jazeera America, the six American participants will gather and revisit about this unique experience. Will any of them change their stance on immigration? Will they have changed as people? What do they think of immigration reform now?
Any 'reality-type' show could follow any migrant in their journey across several borders to enter the United States at great risk. BORDERLANDS changes the conversation by adding the six Americans with very different opinions about undocumented immigrants and immigration reform. The first episode airs April 13th at 8pm CST on Al Jazeera America. Check your local listings and get more information about BORDERLAND TV show here.