What’s the one-word theme of the 2008 presidential primaries? According to the media it’s “change.” Hillary Clinton recently claimed that she’s been an agent of change for the past 35 years, which struck some of us as being even more contradictory than her position on Iraq. But the real key to this year’s presidential race may prove to be immigration. According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, illegal immigration ranks just behind the Iraq War as the most important problem facing the U.S. Three out of four Republican voters describe illegal immigration as a “very serious” problem, according to another Times/CBS poll. Meanwhile, 27% of independent voters say that a candidates’ position on illegal immigration could be a deal-breaker for them. Maybe that’s why Huckabee, Romney, and Giuliani are hardening their positions on illegal immigration just as fast as their little flip-floppers will flip-flop them — I mean, which is why the top-tier Republican candidates have been so busy refining and clarifying their evolving positions on illegal immigration as of late.
As luck would have it, a new documentary on illegal immigration has just been released. It’s required viewing for anyone who seeks a fuller understanding of this complicated issue. The film, "Border", is the work of director Chris Burgard, an independent filmmaker (please don’t call him an “indie”) whose journey from Wisconsin to Hollywood by way of the rodeo circuit is a tale unto itself.
The genesis of this film dates back to 2005 when activist Chris Simcox founded the Minute Men Civil Defense Corps. After Simcox’s group announced plans to spend October of 2005 monitoring and reporting illegal border crossings along the U.S./Mexican border, Burgard paid them a visit, and before long, he decided to document their efforts on film.
"Border" is set in the parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and California where most of the illegal crossings take place. Here we meet illegal immigrants who, despite their lawlessness, are clearly more victims than villains of the status quo. We meet American ranchers whose property has been destroyed by migrants, doctors whose border-town hospitals are overrun by the undocumented indigent, and native-born American workers whose livelihoods have been lost to illegal immigrant labor. We also encounter the obligatory ACLU spokesman who predictably claims that the real problem here is American racism. But the most compelling, real-life characters in Border are the Americans of various ages, ethnicities and backgrounds who came from all over the U.S. to volunteer their services in defense of our borders. Armed mostly with lawn chairs, binoculars and walkie-talkies, these brave men (and women) become the eyes and ears of our undermanned Border Patrol, not to mention an embarrassment to the agencies and officials whose jobs they’re doing.
Despite its serious subject matter, "Border" is a briskly paced, highly entertaining feature with moments of genuine humor and pathos, not to mention excellent production values. Indeed, some of the sequences — like the after-dark thermal footage of armed coyotes passing mere yards from Burgard’s hidden camera — would not seem out of place in a big-budget Hollywood thriller. Burgard’s unaffected charm and sly wit permeate the film through his occasional narration and on-camera appearances. But unlike the works of some other documentarians we could mention, Burgard’s movie is never about him. Instead, Burgard lets the film’s powerful visuals, and the people he meets, tell the story. Moreover, Burgard’s use of animation to graphically depict dynamic situations and statistical graphics that put the film’s visual content into context are both first-rate. While its overall message is alarming, I’m happy to report that Border ends on an optimistic note, even offering suggestions as to how this multi-faceted problem might be addressed. Whether you agree with these ideas or not, you really can’t see this film without acquiring a deeper understanding of America’s illegal immigration problem and a renewed determination to do something about it. On that basis alone, I strongly urge every American who cares about the future of this country to see "Border" whether you happen to be running for President at the moment or not.