On Monday, October 8, 2019, the Reiff Center co-sponsored a screening of the full-length documentary Undeterred with the United Jewish Community of the Virginia Peninsula. This film primarily focused on the small border community of Arivaca, Arizona and the impact of increased militarization of border control since the 1990s. According to the documentary, there has been a significant increase in the powers of the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and the amount of border checkpoints throughout the United States, especially within the perimeter extending 100 miles inland surrounding the country. However, in practice, CBP agents also end up harassing U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Travelers that cross the border in this small town in Arizona are routinely harassed and border abuse grounded in systematic racism has become normalized.

In the second half of the film, the audience learns of the grassroots humanitarian organizations such as People Helping People, Humane Borders, and No More Deaths which aim to confront the human rights violations occurring at the border. Organizations such as these have provided resources, information, and assistance to the thousands of people that attempt to cross the border every day. Additionally, they have fought against the notion that humanitarian aid is a crime and worked together to address the large problem of abuse at the border that is often difficult to address individually.

Following the thought-provoking and emotional documentary screening was a panel discussion facilitated by Dr. Johnny Finn, Associate Professor of Geography at Christopher Newport University, who also got his PhD from the University of Arizona. The two guest speakers were both humanitarian aid workers – one of whom was also the associate producer of Undeterred. Audience members were encouraged to ask the two guests questions about their experience working with organizations concentrated on assisting those making the trek to cross the border as well as improving the quality of life within border communities.

Key points from the post-film discussion included an explanation of what it is like to live in a border community; the increasing association of humanitarian aid with criminal behavior; and the notion that despite the perspective of many border agents that their work is upholding “law and order”, making conditions harsher for travelers does not actually deter migrants from crossing the border. Rather, it pushes migrants to adopt more treacherous paths as they are forced to undertake days-long trek in the Arizona desert with highs of 120F and lows of 15F. As such, the 1994 Border Patrol Strategic Plan of ‘prevention through deterrence’ is both ineffective and inhumane. The Q&A further highlighted that though the Trump Administration has increased enforcement of existing policies and heightened feelings of fear and risk, the atrocities occurring at the border is not a new or recent phenomenon.

Towards the end of the discussion, the volunteers made suggestions for improving the dire situation that has been occurring at our borders for over two decades. One argued that taking the profit out of private detention facilities would diminish the motivation to punish those seeking a better life in the United States. The other urged people to ask themselves “where is the border and what borders am I creating every day?” She went on to encourage others to get involved in humanitarian aid and awareness efforts, pointing out that these efforts are required not just on our border, but even within our communities, as there is an ICE detention facility just 20 minutes from us in Williamsburg, VA. She contends that there is a place for everyone of all abilities in the line of work and that significant risks are not a necessary component of aiding travelers in need.

At the end of the event, the audience was encouraged to “open the borders that might be in [our] heart[s]”. If you would like to learn more about the organizations working to fight the injustices at the border or contribute yourself, please visit PHPArivaca.org.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Reiff Center or Christopher Newport University.