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


 The media source that I analyzed is Border Hustle: Private prisons, smugglers and cartels cash in on migrants by The Texas Tribune and TIME (2019). This documentary is about a man named Carlos who crosses the border with his six-year-old daughter Heyli. This journey was hard because Carlos and Heyli were from Honduras, so they must first travel to get to the border through dangerous terrain, drug cartels, and the coyotes (people who smuggle immigrants). Once they reached the border and pawned their house in order to pay the cartel for crossing, they were finally across the U.S. border. After crossing, they surrendered to Border Patrol agents and were separated into different immigration camps. These immigration camps were over one thousand miles apart and made it impossible to keep in contact. Corporations like CCA have branches of private prisons that profit off of these migrant families. Another corporation that profits from imprisoning immigrants is The Geo Group Inc, and as stated in the reading from tuesday “[t]hese companies have multi‐year, multi‐million dollar contracts with ICE and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), creating a profiting system from immigrant detention (Department of Homeland Security, 2016)” (Menjívar, Cervantes, & Alvord, 2017). 

The key points presented in this documentary is that the United States treats immigrants as if they are criminals and large corporations profit from this criminalization. This relates heavily to discrimination due to the stereotype that immigrants are drug smugglers or criminals in America. Instead of providing immigrants the proper tools in order to become citizens, we treat them as the enemy. The United States current administration has targeted sanctuary cities by cutting funding to not only the the immigrants, but the American citizens until they “cooperate with federal government in the enforcement of immigration laws” (Martínez, Martínez‐Schuldt, & Cantor, 2017). This creates the insinuation that criminalizing immigrants is rewarded financially, while pardoning and helping immigrants is punished financially. Mass incarceration has affected minorities at an alarming rate and has damaged their community financially, psychologically, and physically given the neglect within these prison systems. 

This documentary exposed the heartbreak that families go through within the criminalized immigration system. It goes along with what we have talked about in class in regards to how difficult the system is on the immigrants in it and how the U.S. will go as far as harming their own citizens in order to receive compliance on the immigration laws. What I had not understood was how difficult the journey could be to even make it to the border. Immigrants will lose everything they have in order to cross the border only to be treated as criminals and be separated from their families whenever they do. I would recommend others watch this documentary in order to fully understand the effects that this system has on the people within them as well as how much it takes for immigrants to get here.



            The media source I chose to use was the Netflix documentary series Living Undocumented. I watch the first episode of season 1, this series follows immigrate families from around the world who are living or have been living in the United States as undocumented citizens. This documentary showed the discrimination towards immigrants in the United States post 9/11. After 9/11 people who traveled to the United States on work or travel visas had a difficult time extending their visas or even obtaining them. The government made it extremely difficult to get a visa for the U.S. because the country was in fear of having another 9/11. This denied hard working, good people, with a clean criminal record form staying or coming to the U.S. This documentary also did an excellent job at explain how different administrations have handle immigrant policies. Under the Obama administration only criminal undocumented immigrants were deported. Under the new Trump administration every undocumented immigrant regardless if they are a criminal or not are being deported. The people who are being deported are normal everyday people they are mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers that are being separated from their families and being sent right back into the places they were trying to escape from. The people who did cross the border of Mexico or flew from another country with a legal visa overstayed and their visas expired, and now it is nearly impossible to obtain a new one to stay in the country they built their life in. With previous administration ICE agents had discretion in the jurisdiction they worked in, if they knew that an illegal immigrant was not a threat to the public, they could allow them to stay. Now there is a zero-tolerance role and anybody that has a removal order or is found to be an undocumented immigrant has to go. Immigrants are discriminated by the police because one traffic stop could change their whole entire life. Police officers normally only ask the driver for identification when they are pulled over, police officers now will ask the passengers in the car for their identification if they suspect they are undocumented. This means if a person does not speak English as their first language or if they look foreign, they could be stopped and ask to present proof of citizenship.

This documentary relates to class because we discussed how immigrants have changed throughout the years and how policy has greatly changed after 9/11. The article we discussed in talked about crimmigration which is the increasing merging of immigration and criminal law. This documentary explains that with the policy changes in America regarding immigration anyone who illegally entered the country then was deported and reentered would be deemed a criminal. This would mean that they could never apply to be a permit resident or citizen in the U.S. This documentary showed that the undocumented immigrants the government is considering criminals are the opposite, they are hard working men and women who were immigrating from war torn countries and entered the United States to seek a better life. The documentary followed multiple different families from different cultures who were all escaping the violence in their homeland. We discussed in class that this problem of immigration is not just a problem in the U.S. it is a problem in almost every country in the world. This documentary shows how a father and mother from Pakistan moved to America on a tourist’s visa and they could not get it extended or apply from citizenship because 9/11 happened and the government made it extremely difficult and risky get the proper papers. Another mother had to be deported to back to Mexico even through she is married to a veteran of the U.S. armed forces.

I recommend others to watch this documentary because it is very eye opening to see the truth about immigration. For someone who has not live through it or had a someone they know live through it, the documentary shows that the undocumented people who are being departed are not criminals. They could be your neighbors, friends, your children’s friend at school, these people being sent back to war zones are not drug dealers or murders. The documentary also shows a little piece of how these normal people are treated by ICE officers. They treat the people who are being deported like they are in prison and they try to provoke them to do something like get into a fight just so they have a reason to deport them.





Menjivar, C., Gomez Cervantes, A., & Alvord, D. (2018). The expansion of “crimmigration”, mass

detention and deportation, 12(4). Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/soc4.12573

Netflix: Living Undocumented Season 1 Episode 1

Perception of Immmigrants and Crime: The Reality Check

Reviewed Media Source: Maria Full of Grace
Produced: Paul S. Mezey
Air Date: August 6, 2004
This movie helps us as a society understand the perceptions that media may display about immigrants; often these are the perceptions individuals use to determine their opinion about immigrants. The movie begins by showing us the life of a young seventeen-year-old girl, Maria Alvarez, living in Columbia. We learn quickly that she has a very difficult and stressful life to be as young as she is. The responsibility of providing financial assistance for her family gives her the important responsibility of taking care of her family. She works hard to provide for her family, often dealing with sweatshop like conditions while working. It doesn’t help that she also has a troubled love life with her boyfriend, she quickly learns that she has become pregnant. She quits her job and travels to Bogota, the capital of Columbia. She has intentions of finding a better job when she leaves, but little does she know her life is about to change. She meets a man who gives her a proposition to become a drug mule, meaning she will have to swallow and carry drugs into the United States. She accepts because she needs the money to support her family. Her pregnancy also becomes a valuable tool to avoid many of the airport’s extensive security checks.
It becomes very intense as we watch her swallow these large bags of cocaine to smuggle. As she enters the airport and takes her flight it is apparent that she is afraid and concerned for her life. She is also accompanied by other women who are also drug mules. When they reach the United States, she and the other women go to a hotel where the drug dealers wait for them to pass the pallets of drugs. One woman even dies after a bag busted inside of her. The dealers panic and cut her open to retrieve the remaining drugs before escaping. Maria and the other women begin to sell the rest of the drugs left behind to send the dead women home. After they received enough money the women had intentions of going back to Columbia permanently, but Maria decides that she will continue her life here in the United States instead.
This movie gives us an example of how immigrants are portrayed often, and that is for their relationship to crime. These narratives have shifted to images linking immigrants and immigration to crime ( Bosworth & Guild, 2008). As these depictions continue to influence individuals’ opinions about immigrants it also helps to fuel the criminalization of immigration, otherwise known as crimmigration. If there is a rising concern throughout the country that immigrants will participate in criminal behaviors, it will only be a supporting factor in targeting immigrants. Both the general public and policymakers have often seen immigration and crime as inextricably connected (Bucerius, 2011). We have even been presented with new information that insists that immigrants usually are not very active in crime, but this does not always persuade a change of heart. It was even found that immigrants are less likely to be convicted of serious crimes than native-born (Ewing, 2015). The perception that immigrants are criminals can lead to members of society being very understanding as to why increasing numbers of immigrants are being deported or detained. More currently, there are about 200 detention centers across the country (Gruberg, 2015). As the government continues to focus on limiting immigrants and immigration, they constantly push the narrative that immigrants will always have involvement in the crime in our country. Some of the most powerful leaders of our country have given their opinions about immigrants and crime, usually in a negative way. This can have a major impact on what society will begin to believe as well. The data collected from the General Social Survey indicated that about three-quarters of Americans believe that a rise in immigrant numbers causes higher crime rates (Rumbaut & Ewing, 2009). Although we do see the constant misrepresentation of immigrants, in some instances there can be some truth. We can see a relationship with immigrants and crime when analyzing their role in drug trafficking, which the movie gave us an example of. It was found that when it came to importing heroin, Columbian groups often dominate this high-level trafficking (Paoli & Reuter, 2008). This does not mean though that all immigrants are inevitably going to take part in criminal behaviors. There will continue to be positive and negative opinions of immigrants in our media, but the goal should be to inform individuals of real statistics, with the hope it can outweigh their perceived idea.
I believe that this movie gives us a good representation of how immigrants are portrayed in America. It also shows how difficult life can be for some of these immigrants, they often come here just looking for a place to start over. Although Maria was participating in the importation of illegal drugs it was hard not to have some sympathy because of her background. I think that sometimes this sympathy is why we see some support in favor of immigrants. This could even have a link to sanctuary cities potentially. There are individuals like me who believe that we need to hear their stories sometimes and not judge them based on what the media tells us about. The way immigrants are treated at times is just morally wrong and giving them a place to feel safe is important. I would recommend this movie to my classmates because it is very powerful. It allows us to see that connection between immigrants and crime, while also giving us insight into the stressful lives these immigrants often live before migrating.

Bosworth, M., & Guild, M. (2008). Governing through migration control: Security & citizenship in Britain. British Journal of Criminology, 48, 703-719.
Bucerius, S. M. (2011). Immigrants and crime. The Oxford Handbook of Crime and Criminal Justice, 385-419.
Ewing, W., Martinez, D.E., & Rumbaut, R. G. (2015). The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States. Washington.
Greberg, S. (2015). How for-profit companies are driving immigration detention policies. Center for American Progress.
Paoli, L., & Reuter, P. (2008). Drug trafficking and ethnic minorities in Western Europe. European Journal of Criminology, 5(1), 13-37.
Rumbaut, R. G., & Ewing, W. A. (2007). The myth of immigrant criminality and the paradox of assimilation: Incarceration rates among native and foreign-born men. Policy Center, American Immigration Law Foundation.