Migrants Who Cross the Deadly Sonora Desert

Sonya Dooley in the USA – Border Wars

BBC (2013)

Film Review

Most Sonya Dooley documentaries are contextless valley girl puff pieces, but this one isn’t too bad.

Border Wars is about the one million migrants who attempt to cross the Sonora Desert every year to gain illegal entry to the US. The Mexico-Arizona border is sparsely patrolled in the desert. The US Border Patrol catches approximately 300,000 illegal migrants every year and returns them to Mexico. An estimated 600,000 make it safely to major US cities, where they find work. Several thousands become lost during the five day desert crossing and die of dehydration.

The documentary begins in the small Mexican town of Alta, which is under the control of Mexican drug cartels. In addition to smuggling illegal drugs across the border, the cartels also provide the coyotes (people smugglers) who charge up to $7,000 each to escort migrants across the border.

Dooley interviews migrants staying in a charity hostel while they wait for their coyote. She also visits a Red Cross trailer that provides free medical care, as well as an informational leaflet providing tips for surviving the five-day desert crossing.

Two migrants she interviews are mothers leaving small children behind because she has no way to provide for them in Mexico. Her only hope is to try to find subsistence-level work in the US and send money home for them.

One man Dooley interviews was raised in the US and deported after twenty years, despite having a US-born wife and children. Several migrants tell her they’re from Guatemala.

Out of the seven migrants she profiles, only one succeeds in making it to California, where she now earns $300 a week as a farm worker. To earn a comparable sum in her southern Mexico village would take two months.