Border Film Project is a collaborative art project giving disposable cameras to two groups on different sides of the border: undocumented migrants crossing the desert into the United States, and American Minutemen trying to stop them. To date, we have received 73 cameras — 38 from migrants and 35 from Minutemen — with nearly 2,000 pictures in total. The pictures show the human face of immigration, and they challenge us to question our stereotypes and to see through new and personal lenses.
To recruit migrant photographers, we visited migrant shelters and other humanitarian organizations on the Mexican side of the border. In the busiest areas, these shelters housed dozens of migrants every night, providing them dinner, a place to sleep, and sometimes clothes and medicine for the journey. We met the migrants in groups and told them about the project. Since many had never used cameras before, we also became impromptu photography teachers—pointing out the flash and film wheel and teaching them how to aim through the viewfinder. In addition, we showed them what U.S. mailboxes looked like so they would know how to return the cameras to us. Most migrants seemed eager to participate. Many expressed a profound desire to show American citizens what they had to endure to arrive in the United States.
We distributed cameras to Minutemen volunteers at observation sites in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and California. During observations, volunteers camp out from sunset to sunrise, silently staring into the pitch-black darkness of the desert. When they spot migrants and smugglers, they avoid direct confrontation and instead call the Border Patrol. Our time with the Minutemen gave us a view of the so-called “vigilantes” that was much more nuanced than the caricatures painted by the media. We realized that volunteers are by and large concerned Americans, trying to do their part to make the United States a safer place and to protect American jobs. Many are retired veterans or have backgrounds in law enforcement. They have continued their lives of public service by volunteering to do what they believe the U.S. government should be doing—regaining control of the U.S. border with Mexico.
Migrants and Minutemen have very different backgrounds, yet they share one profound belief: both sides would agree that they are documenting a situation that should not be happening. U.S. border policy is broken and needs to be fixed.