The stark polarization that characterizes American political discourse these days has largely transformed the documentary film into agitprop. Border War: The Battle over Illegal Immigration is a case in point. Produced by a right-wing nonprofit organization, Citizens United, the film constitutes a documentary in the loosest sense of the word. There is no mistaking where director-writer Kevin Knoblock's sympathies lie.
Still, as agitprop goes, Border War boasts some genuinely provocative moments in its focus on five individuals involved in the immigration debate. Only one of the five -- Enrique Morones, who established a nonprofit group that provides food and water for illegal aliens - could be described as an open-borders advocate. The other focal points include U.S. Border Patrol agent Jose Luis Maheda (whose parents, the filmmakers make sure to let us know, emigrated legally from Mexico); Arizona Congressman J.D. Hayworth; Lupe Moreno, a Latina woman who founded Latino Americans for Immigration Reform; and Terri March, the widow of a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who was killed by a Mexican in the country illegally.
One doesn't have to be a zealot to concede that illegal immigration poses serious challenges for the nation. Despite its cynical usefulness as a political "wedge" issue, the border-control question has real ramifications. As Border War correctly states, that reality is particularly evident in Arizona, where the U.S. Border Patrol apprehends about 1,500 illegal immigrants each day - while an estimated 4,500 others manage to successfully sneak into the country. In one scene, hardliner J.D. Hayworth bristles when he is ridiculed by a New York Times editorial for suggesting that more guards, "East German-style," patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. "There's one major difference they're forgetting," says Hayworth, in a car heading toward the Arizona-Mexico border. "The East Germans were keeping people in!"
Although Border War clearly sympathizes with advocates such as Hayworth, it pays relatively scant attention to the ostensible economic drain fueled by illegal immigration. It is here that the filmmakers make an interesting - and perhaps telling - choice. Knoblock instead focuses on the criminal activities of some Mexicans who have poured into the country illegally. Lupe Moreno's opposition to illegal immigration seems to stem from an unhappy marriage to a Mexican man she had met in a "stash house" operated by Moreno's father. The story of Terri March's late husband is obviously tragic, but it seems a stretch to make such a case endemic to the phenomenon of illegal immigration.
But Border War is too effective to dismiss entirely. Its thesis might not be intellectually honest, but its narrative is taut and it provides a window into a world not typically seen. It is at its most compelling on the Arizona-Mexico border, where it shows Border Patrol agents executing sting operations on the "coyotes" who smuggle people into the United States.
Shot in high-definition video and presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Border War boasts a surprisingly solid picture quality despite some softness. The colors are vivid, with rich blacks and realistic skin tones.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track is clean and clear -- nothing remarkable, but adequate for the needs of the film.
Border War: Behind the Scenes (7:25) showcases Knoblock and executive producer David Bossie discussing the making of the film. Interestingly, much of it is dedicated to the haunting - if shameless - music score by composer Anthony Marinelli. Bossie, who is president of Citizens United, makes the pronouncement that Border War is "going to be a major, major impact on this year's election." Oops.
Other extras include six deleted scenes with an aggregate length of five minute, 40 seconds; and an original theatrical trailer.
No one will confuse Border War for being a thorough examination of the illegal immigration debate. Still, as propaganda goes, it boasts good production values and snippets of a world not readily evident to those of us who don't live along the U.S.-Mexico border. This quasi-documentary is occasionally compelling - even if its arguments are not.