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Matinee: John Moore's 'Undocumented' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

23 June 2018

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 245th in our series of Saturday matinees today: John Moore's 'Undocumented'.

The notes accompanying this April PBS NewsHour piece are succinct:

Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist John Moore has been documenting and photographing life on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border for the last 10 years. A new book titled Undocumented collects his images, from Border Patrol agents, to undocumented immigrants, to gang members in Central America.

The full title of Moore's book is Undocumented: Immigration and the Militarization of the United States-Mexico Border, 176 pages published by powerHouse Books with text in both English and Spanish.

Moore's name was in the news this week as the photographer of the crying child taken into custody late one night on the U.S. border. In a Horn article, we linked to his description of that night published in the Guardian.

Moore describes the moment:

"The officer asked her to put the little girl on the ground while the mother was searched. Once on the ground the young girl immediately started crying.

"As a photojournalist covering this story for years and as the father of three children, including a toddler, it was personally very hard for me to photograph. Very quickly the two were then bundled into the transport van and it was over. I had to take a few deep breaths, as it was emotional for me to see."

He never claimed the pair were separated and, indeed, they were not. But he was well aware, unlike the mother and daughter, that under the administration's dictate to process them in criminal court rather than, as has been the practice, in civil court, the child could not remain with the mother and would, by definition, be subsequently treated as an "unaccompanied minor."

In the video above, Moore talks about the importance of photographing all sides of the story. And it isn't idle chat. Two years ago he recounted in an Eddie Adams Workshop video how he had photographed an eviction story and, enamored of one composition that emphasized a holstered gun as an apartment was being emptied of furniture, submitted the image for publication even though it depicted the officers in a false light. He learned a lesson.

What he has to say in our featured video about immigrants is revealing. He knows that they risk everything. He's quite familiar with the violence they are escaping because he has shot portraits of gang assassins who terrorize them. And he knows the hardships the immigrants endure to get here because he's shared them.

What he has to say about the border agents is also revealing. Many are immigrants themselves whose first language is Spanish. And they all learn Spanish in the border patrol academy.

Nothing escapes Moore. Nothing, for that matter, escapes photography, which has been a witness to history since the Civil War.

What Moore couldn't see through his lens, however, is what happens next. On that, the New York Times paints a bleak picture:

Federal immigration courts faced a backlog of more than 700,000 cases in May, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse or TRAC, at Syracuse University. In some courts, the average wait for an immigration hearing was over 1,400 days; some hearings are being scheduled beyond 2021 before an available slot on the docket is found.

That's no one's idea of justice.

Despite the administration's blackout on photos and videos of the detention camps, a ProPublica reporter managed to record an audio clip of the children in one facility.

Two days later, the reporter tells the story of the recording and of six-year-old Alison Jimena Valencia Madrid who memorized her aunt's phone number and pleaded with the officers to make one phone call:

She got to make that call.

But that aunt and her nine-year-old daughter are seeking asylum themselves after immigrating two years ago. She was afraid intervening in her niece's case would jeopardize their own. So she keeps in touch with Alison and her mother by phone. Even though the mother and daughter themselves have not been able to contact each other.

The aunt summed it up:

I know she's not an American citizen. But she's a human being. She's a child. How can they treat her this way?

That's the question Americans have been asking of this aberrant administration all week. And its clownish response and incompetency falls disgustingly short of its responsibilities.

Not to mention human decency.

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