Friday, March 28, 2008

National Geographic gives a fair and balanced view of 'Border Wars'.
Tonight at 8 pm. by Tom Dorsey.

First meet Jose tonight in Altar, Mexico, on his way to his new Kentucky home
"We've come to this town on our way north to find work to help our families," he says. "We're planning to go to Kentucky, but we don't have a job lined up yet, but as soon as we get there we'll find one," Jose tells a National Geographic Channel reporter (Insight 450) on "Explorer: Border Wars" at 8 p.m.

Jose doesn't use his last name because he's an Undocumented immigrant. He does have a wife, and their three children were born in this country.

Jose spends half of the money he makes in Kentucky on his family and sends the rest home to his parents. His father is sick, so he goes back to see him once a year and then runs the gantlet back from Mexico to somewhere in Kentucky.

Jose is in a $3-a-night room in Altar, Mexico, crowded with other men headed for the promised land. We're told that only one or two will make it.

The others will be scooped up by the Border Patrol and shipped back to Mexico if they don't have criminal records. Some are first-timers. Many are people who just keep coming back until they make it or die.

Lots of them are found dead in the desert, where temperatures soar well above 100 degrees. Their sun-bleached bones are discovered after the buzzards are through with them.

The Mexicans pay $4,000 a head to be guided through the no man's land to America. Half is in cash upfront. There is a regular line of shuttle vans that transport them from Altar to the border for the risky trip. The guide refuses to let the Geographic crew go beyond a certain point, and the team loses track of Jose.

Then the documentary unit joins up with the U.S. Border Patrol to get the other side of the story. Viewers who think nothing is being done should watch what members of the patrol are doing.

We see them operating everything from high-tech, remote-control Predator drone airplanes to low-tech methods used by guys who track the Mexicans by following their footprints in the desert.

It takes 50 pounds of water to survive the three-day trek across the desert. The cameras are there when one delirious woman, who got separated from her group and couldn't keep up, wanders down a road.

She just wants to go home. The Good Samaritan who gives her a drink could be sentenced to 10 years in prison for giving her a ride to the border.

The Border Patrol operation is especially intense and sophisticated at places such as Nogales, Ariz. A fence runs down the middle of town separating it from Nogales, Mexico, on the other side.

The fence extends to a point outside town, where it runs out. America has a 2,000-mile-long border with Mexico, and there's no wall that long. Besides, people always find ways around it.

The patrol has an army of vehicles and equipment to stop the flow, which isn't all just desperate people trying to find work to feed their families. We watch the patrol running down drug dealers who use this route to mule-pack large bales of marijuana into the U.S.

The average immigrant poses no problem when he's stopped. He or she simply surrenders when confronted and goes back willingly across the border. Drug dealers, however, can be deadly enemies.

The agents catch up with thousands of Mexicans every day. Thousands more, no one knows how many, slip by. The most popular estimate is that 12 million are in this country illegally.

President Bush is seen saying border protection is critical, but that it's not ever going to be enough to solve the problem. It might take an army bigger than the one we have in Iraq to do the job.

In the end, the Geographic teams finds Jose in Kentucky with his family. He's defied the odds again. His biggest fear is that he and his wife will be deported.

Geographic doesn't take sides. It just shows us the people caught up in the drama. Lou Dobbs, who has made a career out of ranting about the dilemma on CNN, might not care for this approach, but it's a fair, balanced and honest one that pictures the problem for what it is.

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