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Documentary 'The Trade' Gives Human And Heartbreaking Look At The Immigration Crisis


A new documentary series on Showtime gives a very human and heartbreaking look at the immigration crisis on our southern border. "The Trade" follows the lives of migrants and smugglers, victims and survivors, border officials and the undocumented living in the United States. The filmmakers gained incredible access in Honduras and Mexico and with U.S. law enforcement to tell this story of human trafficking. Monica Villamizar is one of the producers. And she joins me now in the studio. Thanks so much for being here.

MONICA VILLAMIZAR: Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There are so many storylines running through these episodes because, of course, immigration is such a complicated issue. One of the ones that you worked on that was particularly compelling is the story of Magda. Tell us about her.

VILLAMIZAR: Magda - we met her - it was really, like, terrible circumstances because we were with a forensics team, and we heard about a young man who had been murdered. It turned out he was Magda's husband, who was shot. And we went to the crime scene. And she wasn't there because the story is that he was part of MS-13. He tried to leave many - the gang many times, several times. And then one day he said, I can't do this anymore. They tried to migrate. They were deported in Mexico. He gets back. And the MS tracks him down and kills him. She was in another town in Honduras. So it took her two days to get to San Pedro Sula for the funeral.

And two days later, I met her at the funeral. And she was with the baby Monse (ph), the little girl. And she said, you know, MS is going to kill me now because I know too much about the gang. And they know we tried to leave. We tried to leave with other gang members. And I need to flee. So I told her - you know, can we follow you? What are your plans? And she basically said, I have no plans. I need to go with a man. Turned out Rossni, her brother-in-law, you know, said, I'm going to go in and look after you and the baby. And they had very, very little money. They waited for two months to gather some money for the trip. But they had, really, no plan and just went up north.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And there is a breathtaking scene because you follow her north where she's holding her baby and she's leaping onto the beast, which is this very well known to migrants moving freight train going north through Mexico.


MAGDA: (Non-English language spoken).


VILLAMIZAR: She was pregnant, as well. I then found out she was pregnant. So that made it all the more difficult. I mean, it's really - you need to be quite athletic to get on that moving train. And you have to climb on top. When you're exposed, obviously, to the weather, it's very cold at night. People huddle together.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And people fall off. People lose limbs trying to get on and off the train. I mean, it's extremely dangerous. So that's Magda's story. But you also introduce us to a woman who runs a smuggling operation. She boasts that her stash houses for migrants en route are comfortable, with air conditioning and TV. You know, that's surprising to many people.

VILLAMIZAR: It was very - it was fascinating. I think women who are living in the underworld, women criminals are way more interesting than the men criminals I've met covering, you know, the drug wars, et cetera. She's a mother. She's very careful and concerned about her appearance. She wears this - you know, very sort of tight-fitting clothes and heels, as you saw in, you know, some of the details. And she's still also very brave, very ruthless. And she boasts that she's very professional. You know, in the area where we filmed, the cartels control all the smuggling business. So you - people have to pay a quota to the cartels. And she was always very proud of her accounting. And she said, you know, it's a man's world. But I work, you know, four times as hard as a man. And I - you know, I keep my accounting so well that I'm the best at this. And I want to be the best.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're someone who has covered the drug wars in Latin America for a very long time and migration, as well. What did you learn? You went into this trying to understand immigration. What did you learn coming out of it?

VILLAMIZAR: One thing that I learned is that I really think smuggling is not going to stop, for instance, no matter what the policy is. These people seem to be sort of almost, like, ahead of the curve. And I've kept in touch with a lot of people that - you know, smugglers that we met because we cast many, many people that are not actually in the film. And there's always sort of an aftereffect after a policy is implemented. But then they kind of figure it out. And it's almost like - you know, like drug smuggling, as well - drug trafficking. They're always ahead of the curve. They'll always find ways to circumvent a certain policy. So I think it's not going to stop. I mean, I think it really needs to be - immigration as a whole needs to be thought of in a different way because, clearly, things in place are not working.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Monica Villamizar, one of the producers of "The Trade," which is now airing on Showtime. Thank you so much.

VILLAMIZAR: Thank you so much, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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