Cochise County (2005) is subtitled Cries From the Border. It more than lives up to its name and description. It is all about the southeast corner of Arizona and the grievances of its tax-payers. The source of anguish held in common is eighty miles of poorly guarded borderland. To some, this is a far-off non-issue. But not to Albuquerqueans, only a balmy, breezy drive away. Like Arizona, New Mexico is relatively unpopulated. Fewer still are the populations in the predominantly rural areas that separate one country from the other. If this does not explain it, then the government’s inertia is a mystery. There is no visible reason why residents far from the buffered interior must put up with an incessant bombardment of human beings. The film tries to give a compensatory voice to a handful of Americans who have learned to defend themselves however they can.
A thin permeable line divides the American southwest from the Mexican northwest. New Mexico is bilingual and thoroughly immersed in Spanish culture. Border violations are not its chief concern. Until the mid-19th century, Americans were the violators. After, they were Mexicans. Then as now, very much is purely arbitrary. But arbitrariness is no problem solver. The United States is already shamefully violent and insensitive to the needs and concerns of her own citizens. An insecure border is unhelpful, to be nice about it.
One can argue with the film’s presentation. It has its bias, as would any documentary. Is the sheriff of a border town exaggerating? Is a lifeless body on the ground an isolated event? Have the burlap bags with shoulder straps used by drug couriers been planted or re-arranged? Is not the photograph of a drug bust with packages of contraband piled high a little too familiar? Further, Cochise County is hardly the most favored point of entry into the United States. Might not some fellow-Americans be protesting too much against “guest workers”?
Cochise County is only an essay of sorts. Its objective is to marshall outrage against a certain predicament. As intolerable as they are, routine border crossings are usually not sensational. Most victims are destitute, of interest to neither America nor Mexico. Insofar as flagrant lawlessness contributes to the decay of American standards, this is unfortunate. Rape, murder, arson, drug-traffic, broken lives, heavy weaponry, rockings, brutality, the spread of diseases, and heightened as well as prolonged frustration should not be part and parcel of the everyday. But they are.
The stories told in the film come from Sierra Vista, Miller Canyon, Huachuca Crest, Naco, Pima Community College, Copper Queen Hospital, Tucson, Douglas, Bisbee, Palominas, Hereford, and Agua Prieta en el estado de Sonora. They are important. The federal government depicted generally passes the buck, so much of what is being done to counteract the ingress that defines border life is owed to local organizations, including militias. In one scene, a Congressman listens patiently to a roomful of angry people. He would no doubt like to help. But this was six years ago. Since then not much seems to have changed.