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by Pamela Yates

A documentary film currently in production

 It was just a whisper that grew into a roar. Three hundred people gathered, the next day 2,000 then 5,000, swelling to 7,000. They are on the move, women, children, and men fleeing violence, climate change, and hunger, walking thousands of miles en masse to the United States. It is a Central American exodus.

We were accompanying them, documenting whether their strength in numbers would ease the dangerous crossing across Mesoamerica. Could being together help them avoid having to pay human smugglers, the coyotes? Were they too big a group to be extorted by the narco-cartels roaming the land? Could any border crossing or wall stop that many people banding together?

 It’s all part of my new feature-length documentary, “Borderlands” currently in production, that focuses on Americans who are willing to risk it all to stand up to U.S. government policies and welcome these refugees. It’s a set of stories about “righteous persons” motivated by moral conviction and compassion. It shows how courageous actions can lead to mobilization and the defense of human rights in the face of hate and discrimination. Who we are as a nation is at stake: will the southern U.S. border become the Ellis Island of the 21st century, welcoming new immigrants to the American dream, or become a new version of the WWII internment camps that Japanese-American citizens were forced to endure?

One of these stories is about the women of No More Deaths/No Más Muertes, a humanitarian aid group in southern Arizona made up of young volunteers who hike the migrant trails of the Sonora desert leaving water and food so that the migrants won’t die from exposure. Border Patrol agents seek out the containers and empty the water. When No More Deaths published a video of the Border Patrol’s callous acts, federal officials struck back charging volunteers Zaachila Orozco-McCormick, Oona Holcomb and two others with littering and trespassing and put them on trial in a Federal Court. So not only is the government exposing people to high risk of death by forcing them to cross through ever more perilous parts of the desert, but they are also criminalizing those who try to help the migrants survive the crossing, resulting in even more people dying.

But the women of No More Deaths managed to flip the narrative while at trial and make it about the Federal Government’s cruelty. In their testimony, they brought attention to the humanitarian crisis triggered by policies intended to deter migrants by increasing risk of death at the border, creating a public relations disaster for the government. When the women were convicted of littering and trespassing and faced six months in federal jail, the government backed down and reduced their sentences to a fine and probation. They dropped charges against other humanitarian aid workers and declared a mistrial in the case against Scott Warren, another No More Deaths volunteer. Rather than the government’s action having a chilling effect, it has now emboldened many others to volunteer from around the country and walk the desert on the border, helping those in need.

Women of No More Deaths outside the Federal courtroom in Tucson, AZ. 

This is one of the stories that we will tell about Americans who, working together and individually, are challenging the anti-immigration narrative, from one of cruelty to one of humanity and welcome. In “Borderlands” we meet the women and men who are confronting unjust laws and are taking great risks to do the right thing, even downplaying those risks as they reflect on the courage of the migrants undertaking epic life-threatening journeys to come to the U.S.

Still from “Empathy,” a short film about the caravan’s journey

You can watch the three-minute film here: http://tinyurl.com/yyuekpzl

Pamela
About Pamela

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“Borderlands,”