The new documentary, “Missing in Brooks County,” does something that is hard to pull off: it chronicles the complicated issues related to the struggles of migrants, and the challenges for law enforcement, without narration.
That approach was important for Jeff Bemiss and the other creators of the film. Through stirring images recorded on the Texas-Mexico border, “Missing in Brooks County” lets the characters tell their own stories.
Bemiss told Texas Standard that Brooks County, Texas, is home to the busiest interior immigration checkpoint in the nation. And it’s a death trap, he says.
“People have referred to it as the ‘killing fields’ of Brooks County,” Bemiss said.
Migrants who are smuggled to the area leave the cars in which they are brought into the country in order to avoid the federal checkpoint. In doing so, hundreds of migrants die of exposure, heat and snakebites each year.
Bemiss says this year’s extreme heat in the American Southwest makes it likely that larger numbers of migrants than usual will die as they attempt to pass through the area on foot.
“Missing in Brooks County” follows volunteers who stock water and feeding stations along the route, and families looking for their loved-ones traveling into Texas. Bemiss tells the story of a Houston family who works to locate a brother-in-law returning to the United States. He had been raised here, but was deported to Mexico after a traffic stop. Bemiss says the man disappeared somewhere in Brooks County.
Brooks County lacks infrastructure or personnel to deal with migrants who die while traveling through the area, Bemiss says. There is no county medical examiner, and Bemiss says that migrants have been buried without DNA testing to verify their identities.
“It leaves their families just sort of hanging in this painful limbo, wondering, ‘Whatever happened to my loved-one?'” he said.
Bemiss says his film is not intended to make a political statement. Rather, he calls it a “360-degree view of what’s happening in Brooks County.” He says Republican and Democratic administrations share blame for a system that results in so much loss of life.
“You need to see it; you need to witness what’s happening, in order to decide what kind of policies we should have to administer our border,” Bemiss said.
He says that U.S. policy has intentionally caused the deaths of hundreds or more migrants each year, and that such a policy should be examined.
“The reason we say it’s ‘intentional’ is that these checkpoints are interior immigration checkpoints; they’re up to 100 miles away from the border,” Bemiss said. “And the idea – it’s a military tactic – is you shut off the regular safe routes to the interior of the country, and you force people to circumvent, where they will be deterred by the hostile terrain.”