Sarajevo Film Festival 2024

The law and the lost

IMMIGRATION / Borders are all in the mind, Loretta van Horst's powerful film about US border patrol officers trying to stop people smuggling from Mexico, The Border Crossed Us, shows.

Loretta van der Horst takes the road less travelled in her sensitive and compelling documentary about the battle between US authorities and those that grow rich off smuggling people across the Mexican border.

The Border Crossed Us Loretta van der Horst
The Border Crossed Us, a film by Loretta van der Horst

A different view

Seeing this struggle through the eyes of the local police officers in La Joya, Texas, who are tasked with patrolling the border and trying to stop illegal immigration at source – by gathering intelligence on the gang leaders and cartels that operate what is an extremely lucrative business in human trafficking – van der Horst asks viewers to take a different view.

Rather than target the poor South Americans desperate to improve their lives by reaching America, the La Joya police aim to target bigger fish. Those illegal immigrants they catch are simply deported back across the border – unless evidence is found that they are involved in trafficking themselves.

By telling the stories of Chief Ramon Gonzalez, Detective Manual Casas, and Officer Mayra Garza, the director draws us into a world of contradictions. The land on both sides of the border was once all part of Mexico, and La Joya is a Latino city. The officers are all Spanish-speaking, and some of them are immigrants themselves. Yet they take God and the law of the USA as their guides and have no qualms about targeting those whose lives of luxury in Mexico are paid for by literal pounds of flesh.

Those illegal immigrants they catch are simply deported back across the border – unless evidence is found that they are involved in trafficking themselves.


Switching between car chases that sometimes end in tragedy – with would-be illegal immigrants dying when a car turns over or an officer breaking bones when her car comes off the road – and the more mundane work of interrogating those suspected of crimes more serious than illegal entry, van der Horst paces this beautifully shot film.

We see the officers struggling with the contradictions of their work, wrestling with their consciences, and worrying about their children. We are encouraged to empathise with their officials, who stress they only wish legal entry was easier.

«Every sovereign state has borders; you cannot cross those borders illegally. That is part of God’s law.» Detective Casas tells a local radio show.

«The human side of us and the Christian faith moves us to help, but do it in the right way without breaking the law.»

But when the presenter states that the US immigration system is broken… asks if he sees things getting better, all he can say is: «Not right now.»

The Border Crossed Us Loretta van der Horst
The Border Crossed Us, a film by Loretta van der Horst

Melancholic air

Subtle use of a haunting track of Mexican songs and ballads lend The Border Crossed Us a gently melancholic air that none of the officers can quite shake off. They know that theirs is a losing battle: as much as they catch bigger fish, the drivers, gang bosses and traffickers tend to pay little price: for example, a bail bond set at $3 million is reduced to $112,000, and the man simply returns to Mexico.

Combatting cocaine or other drugs is more effective, Chief Gonzalez suggests: at least the seized product is destroyed. Here, the product – human beings – are returned to once again pay to try to cross the border.

It is a battle that sometimes saps the will of the officers to strictly enforce the law: an anonymous officer, speaking off camera, says:

«I’ll never forget that family that crossed in the fog that night. I let them go.

«Sometimes we need to remember that this land was Mexican once, and its American now. But the people didn’t change, we stayed the same. We didn’t cross the border. The border crossed us.»

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Nick Holdsworth
Nick Holdsworth
Our regular critic. Journalist, writer, author. Works mostly from Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.

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