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Migration Issues at the USA – Mexican Border


Immigration remains one of the most controversial issues in American society for not only policymakers but the nation as a whole. Indeed, the problem remains ever-present in the USA political and public debates. Immigration, particularly at the USA-Mexican border is one of the premises the current president of the USA, Donald Trump, won the country’s presidential elections. Indeed, issues associated with migration necessity insightful analysis not only in facilitating informed decision-making by policymakers but also to support a better a society. Both the book “The Line becomes a River” by Francisco Cantu and the film “Fast Food Nation” directed by Richard Linklater pinpoint and extensively illustrate the aspects of immigration and associated issues in the American-Mexican border. While “The Line becomes a River,” a book caught between a memoir and tone poem, focuses entirely on the border through following the life of the Author Francisco Cantu who worked in the border patrol, the film approaches the issue through working conditions. While they may appear generically different, both the book and the novel provide insight on the problems of immigration and illustrate that to no small extent the institutions in power both public and private fuel issues related to migration particularly at the Mexican-USA border.

In the book “The Line becomes a River,” a prose that can be categorized as both a memoir and a poem tone, the author Cantu offers snapshots of his experiences in and around the border patrol. At the beginning of the novel, the author voices his reason for joining the border patrol to his mother. “Maybe it is the desert; maybe it is the closeness of life and death, maybe it’s the tension between the two cultures we carry inside us. Whatever it is, I’ll never understand it unless I’m close to it” (Cantu, 2018). The surreal way in which Cantu presents his reasons makes them feel like a promise. However, later in the novel, his motivations turn out to be a bad omen. Cantu is a Mexican-American grandson of border crossers who narrates the story of his years in the border patrol and the experience of trying to smuggle his close but undocumented friend Jose, into the USA. Jose had resided in the USA as an undocumented immigrant for several years and only risked traveling to Mexico to bid goodbye to a dying close relative, but he is, unfortunately, apprehended when he tries to re-enter the USA.

Cantu, who is currently at his early thirties joined border patrol out of college with a passion for understanding the Southwest landscape he had grown up in which in many ways bounded with his history as a Mexican-American. Cantu reasons for joining border patrol imply that it was the best option to witness the reality of the border in addition to gaining the opportunity of being close to the desert. In the book, Cantu confesses despite years dedicated to tracking and investigating at the border it was only after he decided to quit that he understood how the border worked to rip the lives of many people apart (Cantu, 2018). The book focuses on how institutions of power both private and public including the government often focused on advancing their interests without concern of the flight of the ordinary citizen. The author’s mother, who worked at the National Park Service insists that the government took advantage of her passion and worked tirelessly to bend her to its will (Cantu, 2018). While in service of the border patrol, Cantu believed that he was using his identity to enforce the laws. However, by the time he quit, he could see how the policies were flawed and fundamentally inhumane. The book gives a clear presentation of how individuals struggle to enter the USA. Cantu’s experiences converge between the minimalist and melancholic and a level of helplessness. While he did not feel stressed out about the job during his three and half years in border patrol, some of his actions represent some level of misgiving. For instance, when he sympathized and empathized with captured migrants who often offered to work in the processing station in efforts of proving their worth.

In the movie ‘Fast Food Nation,’ the direct fashions Eric Schlosser’s 2001 exhaustive non-fiction book about the issues in the fast-food industry into a morality play that explores the vicious circle of greed in the fast food industry that puts the worker in the ignorant and unconcerned hands of the corporations. The film launches with a slow tracking shot inside Mickey’s, an imaginary fast-food chain organization which trails the fast-food giants such as McDonald’s and Burger King but aspires to acquire a larger market share (Linklater, 2006). Indeed, the camera zooms down into a fat oily patty similar to the techniques many drama films employ when they pull into the character’s face before flashing back to narrate their story. The movie focuses on the history of that particular hamburger and others from the cattle ranches to the processing plants to the homes of the consumers. In a marketing meeting, the audience is introduced to Mickey’s marketing director, Don Anderson, as he is sniffing a new sandwich flavor samples from the chemical laboratory (Linklater, 2006). Anderson makes his way to investigate a rumor that the Mickey’s burger might contain feces. While the film’s main focus is the issues in the fast food industry in the USA, the movie provides insight on how Mexicans who migrate to the USA and end up working for Uniglobe, a sizeable meat-packing plant.

The film introduces the issue of immigration in the USA- Mexican border with a jokey shot following a greasy opening of a dog running on the Mexican border where several men and women are waiting to cross to the USA. Majority of these individuals will wind up at Uniglobe (Linklater, 2006). The floor supervisor essentially overworks these individuals and threatens to make errant meat cutters pull kidneys. The film “Fast Food Nation,” in no small extent feels like investigative journalism in addition to being a human-interest documentary. It is a movie that illustrates the socio-economic limits to human activity. The film devotes a lot of time and attention to showcase the suffering and personal struggles of the immigrants. Having migrated to the USA illegally, the immigrants are not eligible to enter the formal employment where several laws and regulations protect workers. Therefore, the immigrants have to take dangerous jobs at the meat processing plant. The movie illustrates desperate immigrants who are always looking over their shoulders in escaping the authorities and as such taking dangerous jobs where they face constant legal and physical risks (Linklater, 2006). From the film, the motivation of the immigrants to move to the USA is grounded on their desire to escape the grinding and unrelieved poverty of their birth countries.

The sad fact about the movie is that none of the protagonists in Fast Food Nation achieve their goal. Anderson who set off at the beginning of the film to investigate the case of feces in burgers is warned off in no uncertain terms by the company’s inspector Harry Rydell (Linklater, 2006). The immigrants continue to be brutalized by the physical requirements of their job and the sadist nature of their supervisor who often goes to the extent of demanding sexual favors from the female workers. Indeed, the inhuman speed the immigrants are forced to work is the primary cause of food contamination in Mickey’s.

While they do have different plots and storylines, both the novel; “The Lines become a river” and the Film “Fast Food Nation” pinpoint to the entirety of the migration issue in the USA. While the book concentrates on the experiences of the migrants as they try to cross the border, the film focuses on their lives after crossing the border. The policies in place often force many individuals with the desire to cross the border to resort to humiliating activities. For instance, Cantu describes an occasion where he opted to surrender his clothing to assist a migrant (Cantu, 2018). After risking their lives and those of their family members where family members are separated, many immigrants often end up in dangerous jobs that do not care about their mental, physical or psychological health (Linklater, 2006). There are no laws to protect the rights of illegal immigrants in the USA. While many immigrants leave Mexico with the desire to improve their living standards, they often end up doing devastating things to cross the border in addition to settling for dangerous jobs with poor working conditions.


In recent years, literal works including books and Hollywood movies are often applied to illustrate the prevailing issues in the society. Immigration and associated issues such as the poor working environment for illegal immigrants remains one of the most debated problems not only in politics but also in public debate. The novel “The Lines become a River” and the film “Fast Food Nation,” illustrates how issues associated with immigration are perpetuated with institutions in power. In the movie, the meat processing company Uniglobe takes advantage of the immigrants, and the same can be said of the governmental policies, which are created without taking into account the lives of the individuals on the ground. Both works maintain that it is necessary to probe deeper if policymakers and society as a whole are to comprehend the issue that is immigration.


Cantu, F. (2018). The line becomes a river: Dispatches from the border. Riverhead Books.

Linklater, R. (Director). (2006). Fast food nation [Motion Picture].


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