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

One Out of Five Lower-Class Schizophrenics


In the PBS documentary The Released by Miri Navasky and Karen O’Connor, they follow five severely mentally ill men after they had been released from prison. In this case, severe mental illness was defined by requiring daily anti-psychotic medication to begin functioning in a stable way (Navasky & O’Connor, 2009). Following the deinstitutionalization of mental illness, those men are joined by over half of prisoners with serious mental illness to become a part of the largest exodus in our nation’s history. Nearly two-thirds of those prisoners were re-arrested in a little over a year, most for crimes that directly related to their mental illness (Navasky & O’Connor, 2009). This deinstitutionalization was meant to give them the same rights and freedoms as the rest of us, but failed to consider that one isn’t really free when struggling with mental health; a well-meaning policy, but it went too far.

After being released with only a bus ticket, seventy-five dollars, and two weeks’ worth of medication, these five men began to see how there was a better level of care while incarcerated than what they could receive in the community. Most were isolated from their support systems because of their past histories of violence, but this proved only to perpetuate further violence, as no one was there to guide these individuals in their transition back into their communities or even help them stay on their medications. After being re-incarcerated only 1 month following release, one of the men being documented said “I was going to stay on my meds. And they were working. So I got tired of taking them. I thought I was cured” (Navasky & O’Connor, 2009). This refers to the all too familiar “revolving door” concept, in which those with mental illness are too often incarcerated and stabilized, then set free unsupervised to ultimately stop taking their medication in the belief that they no longer need it (Edelman, 2017). This ends in mental relapse, increasing the likelihood of crime and re-incarceration. Proving this point, four of the five men followed in this documentary had been rearrested within the seven month filming period (Navasky & O’Connor, 2009).

This production went on to ask the questions, what happens to the mentally ill after they leave prison and why are they coming back at such shocking rates? Well to start, I said the revolving door concept was all too familiar because it is also a key function in the criminalization of the homeless population (Edelman, 2017). That vicious cycle is only different in its added priority of medication, to the already insurmountable need for stable housing and work that leave little income for necessities such as that medication. Some individuals may qualify for income support towards their treatment, but our society’s broken mental health system and impoverished social networks can take away these eligibilities once the individual has a criminal record (Edelman, 2017).

As we discussed in class, homelessness is one of the many destabilizing life events that can disproportionately affect subgroups like the mentally ill population, acting as a trigger to other problems like psychotic breaks. These breaks are commonly the result of experiencing trauma and violence, which we also know are highly correlated with homelessness (Edelman, 2017). Emergency shelters are set as somewhat effective solutions for the typical homeless population, but many are known to negatively target this subset of the low-income homeless population. The article discussed in class, Housing Not Handcuffs, explicitly describes how these institutions foster an unstable environment not fit for mental rehabilitation and can outright turn away those with documented severe mental illness. This leaves the mentally ill lower-class to join encampments, risking sweeps that could result in the loss of medications and irreplaceable mementos that are essential for mental stability (Middleton, 2014).

The lucky few offenders, one out of every fifty on average, get reentry programs to help them transition back into their community. Few homeless shelters even house the mentally ill, and even fewer help with their treatment (Middleton, 2014). Just one of the five men that this documentary followed had been one of those few, and he was the only left that had not been re-arrested by the time the filming period ended (Navasky & O’Connor, 2009). For obvious reason, I don’t believe that to have been a matter of coincidence.

The content presented in this documentary not only enhanced my knowledge about the mentally ill, but also solidified the belief that lower-income individuals are disproportionately affected by the cyclical nature of re-incarceration. I would recommend this media source to others that wish to see what is really waiting for lower-class ex-convicts on the other side. They would see that mental illness acts as a catalyst to both re-incarceration and homelessness, but not for lack of trying. Since this goes against the negative social blame we pin on those who struggle in ways we cannot understand, it is best to hear it from the five men themselves. But to sum up, every one of the five men had said they were “going to be gone and stay gone” from jails, and would be sure to take their medications to ensure that would happen (Navasky & O’Connor, 2009). Even so, what met them on the outside did next to nothing to facilitate true treatment; not financially, mentally, or socially within their communities. And so, whether they are lower-class individuals wrought with homelessness, lower-class individuals wrought with mental illness, or any variation and combination of the two, the released are inevitably lead to the damnation of repeated debt, re-incarceration, and relapse.


By Jenna Albitz



Edelman, P. B. (2017). Not a crime to be poor: the criminalization of poverty in America. New York: The New Press.

Middleton, M. K. (2014). Housing, Not Handcuffs: Homeless Misrecognition and “SafeGround Sacramentos” Homeless Activism. doi: 10.1111/cccr.12055

Navasky & O’Connor (2009, April 28). The Released. Retrieved February 14, 2020, from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/released/