Emotion and anxiety around immigration to the US helped propel Donald Trump into the Oval Office, and under his administration, deportation arrests of undocumented immigrants have risen sharply. Today, Trump traveled to San Diego to check out prototypes for a wall along the US-Mexico border—one of his signature promises from the campaign trail.
But for a more nuanced view of immigration than the fiery rhetoric frequently aired by both the president and his critics, consider the new book Undocumented, by photographer John Moore. This weighty book of photography shows every angle of the immigration debate, from the perspective of undocumented immigrants crossing the border to that of the US agents pursuing them in the desert.
Few photographers have been as well positioned to document nearly every aspect of the debate as Moore. Traveling the country for wire service Getty Images has provided him with a front seat view of an incredibly complex issue for over a decade. He has visited the holding centers where detained immigrants are sent, as well as their anxious families back home.
One of the last images in the book aims for a high note, showing a room of new US citizens reciting the pledge of allegiance at a naturalization ceremony. But the path to that point takes the viewer through the many facets and perils of the US immigration system.
Moore returned to the US in 2008 after working abroad for several years (He was famously steps away from the late Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto during her assassination in 2007). He credits his work in Iraq and Afghanistan for preparing him for the bureaucratic challenges of gaining meaningful access to US border and immigration agencies.
“Border and immigration authorities have essentially a military structure and many border agents are US military veterans,” Moore said. “Having covered those wars, and having been embedded with US forces many times gave me great insight in how to work within those structures.”
Talking about his work, Moore emphasized that while his role as a photojournalist is to portray differing sides of the issue as realistically and fairly as possible, the most important aspect of his work is to show the humanity of his subjects.
“I hope that through my work and other journalists’ work, that we can get beyond seeing undocumented immigration in terms of statistics; we hear figures like 11 million [the estimated number of undocumented immigrants living in the US], we hear yearly numbers of apprehensions and deportations,” he said. “What I think its important to remember is that everyone involved is a human being.”
“If we see everyone as human, then its possible to find humane solutions.”