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National Geographic Channel Profits from Humanitarian Crisis

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On Jan. 10, 2009, yhe National Geographic Channel premiered its new series entitled, Border Wars to the highest ratings in the history of the channel. That seems like a victory and an important milestone for National Geographic, but, unfortunately, it comes at the expense of the worst humanitarian crisis occurring on U.S. soil today. According to National Geographic Channel's Border Wars,

Over the past few years the Border Patrol has raised the stakes for anyone attempting to cross. They are daily adding to their arsenal of high tech cameras, ground radar and cutting edge unmanned predator drones.

What the show fails to mention is that "raising the stakes" has deliberately and inhumanely forced migration over deadly terrain resulting in the death of thousands of migrants on U.S. soil. Conveniently, Border Wars also fails to mention that current border policy and security infrastructure is not working. According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report recently featured on 60 Minutes,

Three years and a billion dollars later, the "virtual fence" that is eventually supposed to secure America's entire 2,000-mile border with Mexico still doesn't work as it should.

The multi-billion dollar project was supposed to be completed in 2008 and now is scheduled for completion in 2016 if at all. If that is not the most shocking evidence of a failed border security strategy, the GAO goes on to state,

...despite the price tag authorities have not found a way to determine whether it is helping to halt illegal immigration.

Billions of dollars, tens of thousands of border guards and horribly, thousands of dead migrants later, the National Geographic Channel's ratings darling, Border Wars, forgets to mention the border policy they are glorifying in their program is deliberately forcing people to cross deadly terrain and may not be "halting illegal immigration."

Border Wars appeals to the lowest common denominator. It blatantly plays stereotypes and stokes fears to push profits. The promo for the show alarms potential viewers by emphasizing that border guards are on the lookout for terrorists. In the most recent episode aired on January 19, 2010 entitled, City Under Seige, a border patrol officer asks a migrant, in the process of being apprehended, if he is a terrorist. The border crosser says, "no." I suppose the simple question and answer is all we need for safety. One call to the chair of the Intelligence Committee and ex-Border Patrol Chief, Congressman Sylvestre Reyes (D-TX), will tell you there has never been a terrorist threat from south of the U.S. Mexico border. Congressman Reyes sees the intelligence reports and again, there are no threats of terrorism from south of the border. Why would the National Geographic Channel use such a potent term like terrorism in a program trailer and an episode if there were no evidence to substantiate it? Could it be for ratings?

The U.S. border patrol states that 99% of all people they apprehend are coming to the United States for work. This would mean that 99% of all the stories are somewhat innocuous and don't have a dangerous or threatening component. If it is just people looking for a job, certainly there is no need to alarm the public by using words like war and terrorism. Why don't we hear from 99% of the people crossing the border in the hit show Border Wars? Is it a language barrier? So far, it seems as if the producers are not interested in interviewing the actual migrants. I've interviewed thousands of migrants and many are willing to speak on camera. Why doesn't Border Wars tell us where these potential terrorists are coming from and where they are working in the U.S.? Why don't we see the conditions under which millions of undocumented immigrants live in the U.S.? What multi-million dollar U.S. companies are hiring them and drawing them across the border? Are we benefiting from their labor? Sadly, we are not given an opportunity to hear from the migrants and there is no effort to explain the mass migration. Instead it seems easier to explain a complex issue, to which America has responsibility, by using the ratings-grabbing words, war and terrorist.

Did Congress declare war against Mexico? Is there actually a war at the border? Isn't Mexico one of our neighbors? Isn't Mexico one of our allies and closest friends? Or again, is this a ploy to inflate ratings? Mexico is our third largest trading partner next to Canada and China. In 2006 trade between the two countries reached $332 billion and continues to rise. Mexico was the U.S.'s second largest supplier of petroleum in 2006. Mexico is our largest market for beef, dairy, swine, rice, turkey, apples, soymeal, sorghum, and dry beans. The statistics of the two countries cooperating with each other prove over and over again that WE ARE NOT AT WAR with Mexico. So, why use the term Border WARS? Could it be to draw a larger audience - that increases ratings - that increases profits? Border Wars is not even worthy of Lou Dobbs. From someone who was born on the border, grew up on the border and has spent the last ten years documenting the U.S.- Mexico border in film, the National Geographic Channel and Society has lost all my respect and should be relegated to late night, pay per view, gratuitous soft porn and violent cop show channels.

I am not ignorant about what is happening on the U.S. Mexico border. I am fully aware of the assassination style, drug lord killings in Tijuana (where I was born) and Juarez, as well as elsewhere in Mexico. I know the overwhelming majority of illegal narcotics enter the United States across the U.S. Mexico border. I also know that drug cartels are heavily armed, organized and dangerous. Border Wars spends a lot of time showing us the extent of drug trafficking and its dangers. It is sobering and important information for all us to understand and I commend those who risk their lives daily to fight this increasing epidemic. The only problem is Border Wars spends very little or no time explaining to us where the demand is coming from and why so many drugs continue to cross the border.

The United States is the largest consumer of illegal narcotics in the world. We directly fuel the Mexican street drug economy. We provide the drug lords with guns and ammunition as well as the financing to keep the "war" going. If there really is a border war, we have created and armed the militia that is fighting our very own U.S. Border Patrol. Our insatiable drug appetite puts our own law enforcement officers at risk. It would be like giving Al Qaeda guns, ammunition and money to fight us. We are supplying "the enemy" with the very means they need to be our enemy. Why doesn't Border Wars go to college campuses where one can find a host of illegal narcotics on any given day and a culture that encourages massive partying? Why doesn't Border Wars go to Hollywood parties or Wall Street where illegal narcotics are delivered at the feet of the rich? If the demand for illegal narcotics dried up, there would be no drug trafficking and sadly for the National Geographic Channel there would be no ratings hit called Border Wars.

The word war in this case is pejorative. It is demeaning. It is meant to be a ratings grab and by the looks of it, The National Geographic Channel has been successful. Congratulations Nat Geo, you have prostituted your reputation for the almighty dollar and have stepped on the desert graves of thousands who have lost their lives trying to find a way to feed their families. You have solved a complex border problem by advocating for guns and militias, an approach that has destroyed national parks, indigenous communities and does nothing to foster constructive dialogue for reform.

If you ask someone south of the border whether they like the idea of being portrayed as the enemy, they are offended and insulted. Millions of Mexicans, El Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans and more have close ties and family in the United States. Many revere our country and look to it with awe and respect. We are not at war with them or they with us. How do we expect to resolve any difference, disturbance or disagreement if all we do is glorify our fire-power and the right to use it. Can't we talk to our neighbors any more?

On the front page of the Border Wars website there is a photo of several young women sitting on the desert floor leaning against a border patrol vehicle. They are scared as a flashlight from a patrol officer shines in their face. They are about to be processed, detained and most likely, deported. They probably tried to come to the U.S. to find work in a hotel, restaurant or clean someone's home in Beverly Hills. They probably were on their way across the border to meet their parents or husbands and children in the U.S. I have met them. I have spent years documenting their lives and I can tell you they are not the enemy and we should not be afraid of them.

National Geographic, you know better. You have built your reputation on showing us all the magnificence of world cultures and awesome diversity of our planet. Over the years you have dissolved borders by bringing strange lands into our homes. Don't start leveraging your legacy for cheap ratings. I ask all Latinos, human rights advocates, concerned citizens and neighborly Americans to denounce Border Wars. We don't need another war. We need some peace. We need to work with our neighbors to resolve conflict. We need to reach across the border and extend a helping hand wherever necessary and a kind greeting at every opportunity. Stop perpetuating war by glorifying it and start perpetuating understanding by nurturing it.