Rory Kennedy's "The Fence"
Rory Kennedy's upcoming HBO documentary “The Fence” (“La Barba”) presents a compelling argument that the border fence, the subject of the film, is an ill-conceived and expensive mistake.
The documentary itself crosses that difficult border from education into entertainment. The audience at the preview screening in Los Angeles was laughing heartily many times throughout the film.
The facts about the fence are so absurdly funny by themselves that Kennedy and crew can afford to underplay them, with delicious results.
The first time we are shown the fence, we see a sturdy structure stretching across a desert region. While not insurmountable, it does look like it could at least serve as a deterrent -- until the fence abruptly ends.
Roughly 700 miles of fence have been erected along a border region that stretches some 2,000 miles. The fence simply stops and starts in various places. Anyone wishing to cross the border need only follow the fence until they come to a gap.
What this three-year, $3 billion dollar project has done is to force people, seeking to cross the border, to go through more hazardous conditions along the way. It’s also not clear that spending more money to close the gaps in the fence would have the desired effect.
The film presents the strong determination of people who wish to cross the border. As one foreigner noted, “Human beings have more ideas than any device.”
Anyone who buys into any of those ridiculous stereotypes that Mexicans are ignorant, lazy, or “illiterate in any language” (as one Fox News guest says in a captured clip) should consider the ingenuity of the methods the “coyotes” -- smugglers of humans -- have come up with to get people across the border.
One coyote explained how they dug holes under the fence in the morning, guarded them carefully during the day, and then sent people under the fence at night. Yet another man showed how he cut open parts of a car to hide passengers under seats and even in the foot well of the passenger side of the front seat.
Another technique was to bring trucks bearing ramps (like the ones used to ferry new cars across the country) right up to the fence so a car could literally drive from the ramp down over the border fence.
The coyotes charge thousands of dollars to people wishing to cross the border. Would you pay $5,000 to come to America to pick crops in subhuman conditions at less than minimum wage? How horrible must one’s life be for them to want to pay that price for such work?
Wouldn’t that $3 billion have been better spent on improving the living and working conditions of our southern neighbors to reduce their incentive to come to America in the first place?
One of the more hilarious moments was shot at a golf course that sits south of the border wall but north of the actual border. The border is denoted by the Rio Grande River, which bends and curves. Instead of building the fence along the river, a decision was made to just build the fence straight across in some spots, creating a strange region that is still part of the United States, but south of the fence.
One such region involves a golf course. How bizarre that you need to bring your passport to return from a golf course that is already in America. The absurdities abound.
The film has a point of view, but it is not a completely one-sided presentation. The filmmakers spent a good deal of time following a group of Minutemen who were busy patrolling the border on their own volition, loaded with weapons and a strong belief in the righteousness of their cause.
The filmmakers gave them plenty of screen time to explain the reasoning that led to the creation of the fence in the first place. To them, this isn’t about Mexican immigrants coming across the border to work American farms. This is about potential terrorists entering America to create another 9/11.
Rory, who narrated the film, counters this point with a map sprouting X’s to show where certified terrorists have entered the country, Rory reads off the names of the cities -- New York, New York, New York, Miami, New York, Los Angeles, New York, New York, New York -- and notes, with the kind of dry wit her father Robert Kennedy was famous for, that a pattern seems to be emerging.
One of the film’s most poignant moments was the display of a map showing where immigrants died. While scattered across the border region, there were noticeable areas of concentration.
How horrible must one’s life be that they are willing to die to cross into another country? Can any fence hold back those who feel that level of desperation?
The film also touches on the environmental cost of the fence. As Rory noted in a Q&A after the screening, this is some of the most pristine land in America.
The fence prevents the migration of scores of creatures, including deer, mountain lions, and bears, among others. One shot shows some deer nosing up to the fence, presumably wondering how they could get to their usual stomping grounds.
As one man noted in the film, imagine someone coming into your home and walling you off from your kitchen, or your bedroom. That’s what we’ve done to a number of species.
Several times, the film references President Ronald Reagan’s famous “Tear down this wall” moment. This is not who we are, as Americans, several voices in the film say. We don’t build walls. We’re a nation of immigrants.
So how did this travesty come about? In the wake of 9/11, and led in large part by activists so vocal they literally shut down the phones on Capitol Hill, 73 percent of our elected representatives approved the border fence.
They might not have, Rory noted in the Q&A later, had not one network in particular, whose name she wouldn’t mention except to say it rhymed with “socks,” fanned the flames of anti-immigrant fear to the point where some on the Hill felt they had no politically viable choice but to build the fence.
In 2010, the Department of Homeland Security froze new construction on the fence. But American taxpayers are still committed to paying $49 billion in repairs for a fence that doesn’t even achieve its goal of preventing or even significantly deterring immigration.
If you have HBO, you can see this film Thursday night, Sept. 16. If you don’t have HBO, you’ll have to wait a while, but eventually, this film, like other HBO productions, should be available as a rental.
And if you have HBO but some of your friends don’t, why not set up a screening and invite them over? Films like this cry out to be shared with others.
Lisa Pease is a historian and writer who specializes in the mysteries of the John F. Kennedy era.
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