A Movie from the Past and Our Current Border Crisis

Watching the crisis at our southern border these days, with tens of thousands of people almost certainly headed for what will be nearly impossible conditions in which they might exist, flooding into a country whose government and whose people are both logistically and emotionally incapable of dealing with the entire influx of migrants, one searches for answers to a situation with which it is seemingly impossible to deal, with no clear vision seeming to be anywhere in sight. In addition, so far at least the only potential answers that have been proposed have tended to emanate from potential responses which originate exclusively at the level of policy decisions, rather than stemming from what might be occurring within people at the personal level.

It might certainly be possible that the answer to this seemingly impossible situation might indeed be found deep inside the psyches of those who are trapped within it, not within the sort of policy issues which seek to curtail it. Just about twenty years ago the movie Maria Full of Grace was released to a public which didn’t see anything this raw and elemental coming at their local movie theaters. Starring a young Catalina Sandino Moreno, it told the story of young women, among them seventeen-year old Maria, who, in order to escape the stifling poverty of their native Columbia were willing to swallow up to fifty or more balloon pellets full of cocaine in order to transport them vis-a-vis riding on an airplane from Columbia to the United States, where the cocaine would be eventually sold, and the girls paid well for their part in the enterprise.

In several terrifying, riveting scenes, the extent of the girls’ desperation, and what they are willing to do in order to leave behind their impoverished lives in Columbia is on full display. Particularly harrowing is one scene where the girls are in effect trapped inside the cabin of the plane, with no possible escape route, with the drugs inside them while one of them is starting to feel extremely ill. In another extremely tense scene, Maria is stopped at the baggage carousel by immigration agents who are convinced that she is carrying drugs in her stomach. Then, just as they are getting ready to x-ray her to prove the existence of the pellets inside her, a urine test proves she’s pregnant, the agents know that they can’ t x-ray pregnant women, and to her great relief she is suddenly released.

This is obviously a movie about young women who amidst their desperation are willing to risk everything in order to improve the circumstances of their lives under the most harrowing of conditions. Therefore, amidst the talk and discussions of policy as well as the political conversation concerning immigration which tends to dominate the nightly news on cable television, it seems particularly relevant that we keep in mind the extreme desperation of people who are willing to endure the near impossible circumstance depicted in Maria Full of Grace, a movie which almost certainly evolved from true life stories of young people acting as drug mules, in addition to those who are now walking hundreds of miles through rough terrain and extremely dangerous circumstances in order to come to this country. That is, their desperation and their will power will continue to become impossible forces to impede.

If this country seriously wants to stem the influx of migrants at our southern border, we must begin by recognizing the degree of desperation which has caused so many to come here seeking asylum and the possibility of a better life; and that begins with working with those countries from which the current crop of migrants are fleeing to improve living conditions there. Unless we begin doing that, nothing is ever going to change, with the huge influx of migrants, that which we can’t possibly fully control, continuing to exist. That is, it is now very much our business and our responsibility to work with the governments of those countries from which so many are fleeing to work to improve the lot of their citizens, even if certain economic or political pressures need to be applied in order to make this occur. A movie about young women swallowing balloons full of cocaine in order to flee intolerable conditions is really only a glimpse into the reality of what we are now facing.

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