Director Maisie Crow of Austin, Texas, takes us inside Horizon High School, 10 mile from the border in El Paso, Texas, to explore the members of the Criminal Justice Club—students considering a career in law enforcement as members of the Border Patrol.
The director’s write-up put it this way: “What is the price of pursuing dreams that have very real consequences?”
The price (i.e., pay) for a beginning border patrol agent is $52,583 and, within 5 years, the agents can be commanding salaries of $100,000 annually. The bi-cultural Spanish-speaking high school students in this border town near Juarez are potentially valuable recruits to the service, because they can communicate and know the culture.
We follow Cristine, Kassy/Mason, and Cesar, a recent graduate, as they take part in training as border patrol explorers and would-be agents.
Intruding on their career decisions are the personal lives of the students. It is the students’ personal lives that ultimately become more the focus of the film than the decision “to be or not to be” border patrol agents. That was a bit disappointing, as I thought we would learn more about the actual work that border patrol agents do and the conflicts an agent might face if asked to enforce a policy that, in their own judgment, was grossly unfair.
This subject does come up with the students when it becomes clear that there is a split of opinion about tearing immigrant families apart at the border. Cristine’s mother, in Spanish, says, “I mean, if you’re going to deport them, deport them, but why break up the family? I read about one family where the mother was sent to New York and the children were in Washington.” Cristine’s mother doesn’t think much of the White House’s “no tolerance” policy, foisted on the administration by Steven Miller, and neither does Cristine herself, ultimately, as she does not continue with the Explorers program.
Another student involved is Kassy/Mason, who probably talks the most, saying “I found a support system so I could have a family and not feel alone, but it’s not a support system for who I am.” Kassy—now known as Mason— is a Beto O’Rourke supporter, in favor of Black Lives Matter, and gay (trans by film’s end). Kassy/Mason’s parents are divorced and the house in the early morning hours is always deserted. During a Border Challenge Competition Kassy/Mason is removed from a team sent in to “sweep” a room. The older policeman who says “stand down” had been a hero to the teen. Perhaps this public demotion is one of the reasons the chattiest teen ultimately does not continue with the border patrol explorers group, as the older man gives as his reason that he only wants 10 people strong, rather than 11. One wonders if this is the real reason.
For someone who spends a lot of the film telling us how difficult it is to “open up” about problems in the family, including divorce and homosexuality, Kassy—who becomes Mason by film’s end— does the majority of the talking about personal situations throughout the film. By the end of the film this young explorer has quit the program and is now openly trans and called Mason.
Last in the trio of students we follow is the recent Horizon High School graduate Cesar, whose father was caught trying to bring drugs across the border from Juarez and imprisoned in the local prison annex for a year. Cesar’s father, when released from jail, was told not to leave the area. So, of course, the first thing he did was to move permanently to Juarez, where Cesar now spends time visiting him and, at times, living with him.
Of the three students who were part of the Criminal Justice Club originally, Cesar and another student (Oscar) both seem as though they will make it into the field, while the others on whom this film concentrated the most probably will not.
The film ran one hour and 42 minutes, proving, once again, that “it’s tough to kill your babies,” whether that “baby” is a book or a film.