On The Line follows 3 deportees from the United States to Mexico. All have spent decades and decades living in the US, and have nothing in Mexico. They live in Tijuana, close enough to the American border to see San Diego on a clear day.
The heartbreak of this film is of how near, and yet so far, they are from their home. The deportees have not integrated into Mexican life, they don’t want to. They spend every moment thinking about and working towards getting home to the US. Although they can all speak Spanish, they speak English in their homes. They listen to San Diego FM on the radio, watch the news on CNN on the tv, and they work in call centres phoning American businesses and homes to sell products for American companies, just at a fraction of the wage they would get in the US.
Ricardo is a veteran. Which just blows my mind. They don’t need to you to have papers to sign up and die for your country, but you do if you want to come back home and get a piece of the good life you fought to protect. Fucking wild. Americans, and especially the Republicans, are so ‘Support the troops!’ and ‘the military is sacred!”, especially when it comes to discussing the point of a war or challenging budget expenditure, but they are deporting veterans?
Ricardo still holds services for the fallen along with other deported veterans, standing to attention and reporting rank. He works online, spending all day speaking to other Americans going about their day, and when he finishes he watches American tv. He keeps himself in this bubble of America. And it all seems so real, he can watch what they watch, see the weather forecast, listen to the same music. It is so close to home. And yet it’s not. He lives in this island in his flat, full of unpacked boxes, and ignores all of Mexico outside his door.
Sergio also works in a call centre. He is saving up whatever he can to find some way back to his wife, his kids. His whole life is in American and it is like he has been picked up and dropped off in a foreign land. He was brought to America at the age of 1 by his parents. He has never known anything other than America. He is painfully aware that he is living in exile, while his kids grow up without him, while his wife has to find a way to raise their family alone.
Rocio is a grandma whose son serves in the America military. Her boy is off fighting for his country while Mum is being deported to live in a broken-down shack without running water, all alone. Again, everything seems so close. She can facetime her daughters and speak to her grandkids. She can open her home security app on her phone and see the house she left behind, watch her elderly mother cooking meals. But she can never eat the meals, or hug her grandkids. Her daughters are eventually able to come and visit her, and they are struck dumb at their mother living in this crumbling one-room building.
Throughout all of this, despair runs like a torrent. And a barely suppressed rage at the injustice of it. Ricardo had a criminal record as a result of the heroin addiction he developed serving in Vietnam, but has been clean for decades. It is when he is clean and approaching retirement, that’s when they deport him. Sergio also had drug offences from when he was a teenager. But they deport him once he has turned his life around and is a hard-working family man. He even had papers, but they had been lost at one point. And Rocio, she had no criminal record at all. She worked almost half a century in America, put her kids through uni, sent her son off to war, and then they deported her.
It’s all so arbitrary, and so stupid, and so needless. That is what is so disgusting. The destruction of their lives, the tearing apart of their family, leaving them to die alone in a foreign land in a state of poverty – it’s not for any reason. No one believes Rocio, a grandmother and family pillar, is some cartel mafioso. No one believes Sergio poses a danger to society, with his business and kids. No one thinks Ricardo, a Vietnam vet, is a people-trafficker. It’s obvious, and everyone sees it for what it is – ethnically cleansing the USA of as many Latinos as possible.
The bitterness and resentment towards the US this will drive into the hearts of people will last for generations. The sense of insecurity – of Rocio’s grandkids watching their grandmother snatched away after a half-hour hearing – is going to leave ripples that will stretch out beyond sight. This is a trauma that is going to have, and is already having, long-lasting consequences.