Postcards From the Edge

Hi, Mom! I'm crossing the border!

Hurley, meanwhile, has managed to make her own little paradise just yards away from what's become the busiest and most treacherous migrant crossing section along the border.

"What goes on around us is terrible," she says. "Dead bodies, high-speed chases, stolen cars, helicopters, fugitives -- it all happens here, every day.

"But right here, it's so lovely," she adds, sitting with her open novel beside a barbecue grill in front of the customs house, which looks like a full-scale replica of a toy train station from a model railroad set. "I used to work in Nogales, which was frightful. But I've been here for three months now, and I feel like I've died and went to heaven!"

An assortment of photos taken by both migrants and Minutemen, to be included in an upcoming art exhibit.
An assortment of photos taken by both migrants and Minutemen, to be included in an upcoming art exhibit.
The crew of the Border Film Project (, from left: Rudy Adler, Victoria Criado and Brett Huneycutt.
courtesy of Rudy Adler
The crew of the Border Film Project (, from left: Rudy Adler, Victoria Criado and Brett Huneycutt.

Early in the documentary project, the team members say, it appeared much more cut-and-dried to the migrant-championing idealists just who were the heroes and villains in the immigration issue.

Humanitarian groups like Grupo Beta, No More Deaths and Humane Borders, good.

Anti-immigrant forces like the Minutemen, Representative J.D. Hayworth and Senator Jon Kyl, bad.

Now that they've hung around the border towns long enough, though, Adler, Huneycutt and Criado have seen good and bad, caring and calloused, on both sides of the barbed-wire fence. Which is, in the end, what they hope will come out in the photo exhibit: the real people, both flawed and, in their own ways, noble, who are each trying to deal with a situation they can all agree needs repair.

"It would be easy to do a Michael Moore thing, and just preach to the choir about how messed-up U.S. border policy is," says Adler. "But we also want the left to see who the Minutemen are -- just like we want the right to see the migrants, and see that they're just good people trying to earn money."

Adler says he's long wanted to do a piece on a group that liberals despise and somehow make them look like regular folk. "Somebody they thought they'd hate, but then kind of humanize them."

The Minutemen, he says, make the perfect subjects.

"The Minutemen are these mostly old guys who sit out in the desert in lawn chairs all night, from 6 p.m. 'til 8 in the morning. And it's pretty boring what they do, really.

"But during the day, it's actually a pretty cool community. They hang out at the VFW halls, and there's a bar, and they serve food, and all these guys sit around and talk. Almost all of them are ex-military, so they have all these stories to tell." A lot of them, Adler says, are just sweet old men who can't let go of being soldiers.

While Huneycutt is more critical of the Minutemen -- "Their mission statement is not racist, but the idea of the group attracts people who could be racist" -- he says he does admire their clear stance on the issue.

"A lot of people say they don't want immigrants, but they secretly do," he says. "They just want them to come through the desert and risk their lives to work here. It's one of those hear-no-evil, see-no-evil things: We chose to ignore it."

With the cameras clicking from both sides of the fence, Huneycutt says, "We're really hoping the photos shed light on truths that are otherwise covered up."

Back home in Paradise Valley, Adler has already been getting several of the disposable cameras back in the mail -- mostly from the migrants (the Minutemen didn't start getting their cameras until about a month and a half after the project began). And to his delight, the ratio of great photos per roll has been averaging much higher than any of them expected -- "more like three or four out of 27."

"This one will probably make the cut," he says, displaying a photo of a bleached white bone tossed among the rocks in a small clearing of grass and weeds. "It looks a little big to be a human bone, but you never know." Many of the migrants send back photos of the handmade crosses erected at the border towns proclaiming, "Van mas de 2,500. ¿Cuantos Mas?" ("There are more than 2,500. How many more?"). This particular migrant's photo forces the viewer to take a look at what may be, at least, one of their bones.

Next, some comic relief: a few photos from a roll taken by two young guys who photographed each other all the way from Altar to Phoenix, smiling and waving from various points along the trek.

"He looks like he's on vacation," Adler says, laughing. "He's got all these shots where he's like, 'Hi, Mom! I'm crossing the desert!'"

There's a surprisingly close-up shot of a Border Patrol helicopter seen from below -- "and these cameras don't have zoom," Adler points out. It's the last shot on that roll -- no background story as to how the camera made its way back to Adler. There's one of someone's horrendously blistered foot, like a still from a gross-out horror flick, or a Health Channel show.

Adler, Huneycutt and Criado have been touched by the photos, and their journey. Amazingly, it hasn't made them stridently righteous -- or, worse, sappy.

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