Train to Nowhere: Inside an Immigrant Death Investigation

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Published on 04/26/2015 by Paul Kakert

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When the bodies of eleven Central Americans and Mexicans were found inside a freight car in Denison, Iowa, the nation took notice. Reporters descended on the small farming community, searching for information about how and why this group ended up inside a locked railcar, where they would die horrific deaths.

The documentary, “Train to Nowhere; Inside an Immigrant Death Investigation,” offers an honest, yet compassionate look at the 2002 deaths of the eleven undocumented immigrants. It takes the viewers from the streets of southern Texas, to the hills of a Guatemalan farm, to the Iowa town where the bodies were found.

The film is part crime story, part immigration perspective. The film breaks free of the standard immigration story, however, in examining the case from various viewpoints: that of one victim’s New York brother, a long-time immigration agent, and a train conductor imprisoned for working with the smugglers who locked the railcar to throw off U.S. Border Patrol inspectors. Viewers will see beyond the superficial levels of the people involved in the story and understand the complexities of their personalities and the situation. The older brother from Guatemala, once an undocumented immigrant himself, struggles with anger and, sometimes, guilt. Even though he urged his little brother to remain in Central America, his own financial success showed the younger man what could be achieved. The immigration agent, who traveled north as a boy with his migrant farm worker grandfather and father, believes in strict border control yet often encounters those who question his loyalty to the United States because of his Mexican heritage. The former train conductor, once paid to help slip people into the United States by train, argues he was trying to help the immigrants gain a chance at better lives. This is a crime story that also illustrates how immigration is such a complex issue, far from black and white.

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