"Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
This is what the plaque on the Statue of Liberty National Monument famously reads, a message to those searching for a better life in the land of opportunity, the United States of America.
These days, however, one begins to wonder if that message continues to ring true.
The documentary film “Missing in Brooks County” takes viewers to Brooks County, Texas, where the issue of immigration stares its occupants right in the face. Seventy miles north of the border, Brooks County is Texas' busiest interior immigration checkpoint, leaving many desperate migrants searching for other ways of entry in the vast and desolate private ranch lands that surround it. According to the film's website, since 2008, it is estimated that Brooks County is the site of 3,000 migrant deaths and the numbers continue to climb.
The film follows a multitude of protagonists, the most notable being the family of Homero Roman, his brother Omar Roman and sister-in-law Michelle Chinos, as well as the family of Juan Maceda Salazar, his cousin Moises Zavala. Both families have come to Brooks County working closely with Eddie Canales, the primary organizer of South Texas Human Rights Center, in search of their missing loved ones.
Maceda Salazar came to the U.S. from Mexico. Hoping to avoid the illegal world that many are forced to turn to in Mexico, Salazar sought America for better opportunities.
Homero Roman is an undocumented immigrant who came from Mexico at the age of 5. At age 27, he had a traffic violation and was deported back to Mexico. Despite originating from there, Mexico was not his home. The family he knew, the country he was familiar with, were all back in the country that did not want him.
While these people's stories may not be unique to the thousands of other immigrants still missing from crossing the border, they prove to be just as important and just as impactful. The love and desperation that drives these families to search for their missing family members creates a story that humanizes an issue that often very easily gets dehumanized.
In addition to telling these families’ stories, the film does an excellent job of illustrating the complexities of the border issue. As an audience member, we are shown multiple perspectives from those involved in the Brooks County border.
The other perspectives include private ranch owner Michael Vickers, who prides himself on detaining and capturing migrants with his Texas Border Volunteers. As well as Kate Spradley, Texas State University biological anthropologist, and her team of graduate students who painstakingly work to identify the bodies of crossers. Lastly, Alex Jara, a border patrol agent who attends regular searches to find migrants lost in the desert.
"An illegal alien cross is an illegal alien crosser. It's black and white; it's not gray,” Vickers said in the film.
Despite his claim, however, the film presents a much different story.
The reason behind the issues concerning places like Brooks County is largely due to the Prevention Through Deterrence policy. According to the film, this policy purposefully directs migrants into dangerous crossing areas, resulting in over 20,000 deaths, with many occurring in Brooks County.
Even more notable, the policy was implemented in 1994 under the Clinton Administration, a democratic administration.
I got an opportunity to speak with two of the filmmakers for "Missing in Brooks County," co-director and producer Lisa Molomot and editor and producer Jacob Bricca. Besides their services on the film, Molomot and Bricca both double as educators at the University of Arizona. Molomot teaches a number of classes for the film and television major, the human rights practice program and the undergraduate law major. Bricca is the head of the production division and an associate professor for the film and television major.
According to Bricca, prior to making the film he was unaware of the Prevention Through Deterrence policy and was profoundly struck by it.
“In the film, it helps to take it out of the realm of a purely partisan, at least a Democrat and Republican, issue,” Bricca said. “I think the film has an implicit point of view about that. That it's not a defensible humanitarian policy and that the militarization of the border that has happened largely since that time has only increased over time to this extreme level with the wall and it's simply not the only way to think about that problem.”
I found myself agreeing with Bricca before viewing the film and even more so after. The film’s attempts at educating its audience on this policy and the fact that both sides of the political spectrum have had a hand in worsening the border issue forces everyone to take a moment to truly understand what exactly is going on here. It proves that this finger-pointing not only is a waste of time, but futile.
In the grand scheme of things, we have all contributed to this horrific situation. Americans must now take the next step forward to work together and figure out how to solve it.
One of the most empowering messages I found through watching the film and interviewing some of its filmmakers is their drive to get this story out there. I think Molomot said it best.
“It’s the right thing to do; it's the right thing to educate people. It's the right thing to get this in front of lawmakers so they can see what's going on here and meet the families and see the reality of this situation,” Molomot said. “I’m not blindly optimistic, but I do feel like if you do the right thing that there is a possibility for change because what is happening there is wrong. You push forward even if it doesn’t seem very fruitful.”
“Missing in Brooks County” is available to stream on a variety of virtual film festivals linked on their website. It will also have an in-person screening at The Loft Cinema on Sunday, March 28, 2021.
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