Just Another Kind of Hustle

Border Hustle: Private Prisons, Smugglers, and Cartels Cash in on Migrants by the Texas Tribune and TIME takes its viewers on a journey with Carlos and his six-year-old daughter, Heyli as they migrate from Honduras to the U.S. boarder in search of asylum. Smuggling is the economy of their transient town in the “wild East,”and so finding a coyote to transport them across the border was easy, but everything got harder from there. This area was under the Reynosa cartels watch; they are the ones who really decide who gets to pass through their border and who doesn’t. Carlos’s family had to pawn their house for the cartel to allow them passage across the river with a makeshift raft. Three thousand dollars later, a video was sent to the family of their safe crossing into Villahermosa (Border Hustle, 2019).https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9NCr4NNG0

From there, Carlos and his child had to be shipped like cargo inside of a crowded truck for miles of highway until they reached the United States border. Unaware of the zero-tolerance policy put in affect under the Trump administration, he was led to believe that parents with children were free to go up to border patrol and ask for asylum. After spending thousands of dollars and grueling hours to get there, Carlos was criminally charged for transporting a child and Heyli was taken over 1,200 miles away from the only family she knew, in a country she did not understand (Border Hustle, 2019). The documentary goes on to explain how this small family is only one piece of the global industry built around smuggling, in the efforts to take advantage of America’s punitive policies against migration.

That zero-tolerance policy is one example of the processes being developed in which media narratives, political discourses, and laws are put in place to criminalize undocumented immigrants by catalyzing the expansion of border and interior immigration enforcement (Menjívar, et al., 2018).The United States federal government was known to reject asylum applications, even before the Trump administration (Menjívar, et al., 2018). Still, migration is all too often caused by fear of crime or fear of poverty in their country of origin, but those are only oversimplified symptoms of a vicious cycle. For instance, poverty makes it difficult to migrate because a certain amount of money is needed to pay coyotes, and in this case, cartels that allow you to pass through. Since some immigrants are migrating for the sole purpose of getting out of poverty, the process of migration, legally or illegally, only increases the financial desperation for that population. Therefore, this cycle is part of a larger profiting system of exclusion and inclusion, acting to normalize linkages between human mobility and crime while discriminating against the financially predisposed immigrant populations (Martínez, Martínez-Schuldt & Cantor, 2017).

Not only this, but privatized detention centers are paid for the number of immigrants they catch. It’s a business; their goal isn’t for public safety, service, or housing illegal persons, but to make approximately three hundred dollars per day. The Crimmigration article refers to this ICE standard as a bed mandate, where the number of beds filled for the detention centers quota directly correlates with the number of immigrants detained. Although the documentary says detention centers are working within ICE standards, ICE isn’t directly involved in the operation within these facilities (Martínez, Martínez-Schuldt & Cantor, 2017). This has created growing concerns of ethno-racial profiling and humanitarian mistreatment within these facilities (Menjívar, et al., 2018). An environment with no oversight can only breed mistreatment and discrimination, specifically for the unauthorized use of a workforce comprised of detention center detainees for little or no pay (Border Hustle, 2019).

Border Hustle gives any viewer a clear insight into the personal, rather than political, implications of criminalized immigration policies. Since this is a different perspective than discussed in class, it would be beneficial to viewers to see just how these policies can disproportionality change the lives of others; it’s a true sign of privilege when you don’t treat every piece of policy as life or death. This is the underlying ethnocentric nature of public discourse surrounding immigration policy, under the guise of freedom for all (Menjívar, et al., 2018). Not only this, but immigration is plainly portrayed as a social construct by the ways that immigration enforcement is supposed to be civil, not criminal. Yet is the mistreatment that these people go through is the same as they would have stayed outside of our borders; American enforcers just get to wear uniforms when they do it.

Seeing that six-year-old girl cry inconsolably to her mother during a facetime call from thousands of miles away put a name to the face of those mistreated within our system, and gave me an in-depth understanding of the issue at hand. America has been built upon the basis of freedom for all and equal treatment under the law, but only for those deemed legal citizens within our borders. The new life that these immigrants chase after is taken at a high price; in Heyli’s case, a price of separation, debt, and traumatization. This goes directly against what the American Dream promises, which leads me to believe that it’s an illusion only applicable to the “us” of America, and not “them.” In a way, criminalization of immigrants is the modern Mexican version of African American slavery; both exploited, neither having a choice (Border Hustle, 2019). So, this documentary poses the question, is history repeating itself? These people believe that once they reach America, the extortion would end, but it’s just another kind of hustle.

By Jenna Albitz



Border Hustle: Private Prisons, Smugglers, and Cartels Cash in On Migrants. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9NC2r4NNG0

Martínez, D. E., Martínez-Schuldt, R. D., & Cantor, G. (2017). Providing Sanctuary or Fostering Crime? A Review of the Research on “Sanctuary Cities” and Crime​. Sociology Compass12(1). doi: 10.1111/soc4.12547

Menjívar, C., Cervantes, A. G., & Alvord, D. (2018). The expansion of “crimmigration,” mass detention, and deportation. Sociology Compass12(4). doi: 10.1111/soc4.12573

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