Great ideas happen in different ways. Some are like bolts out of the blue. Philo Farnsworth, the father of television, came up with the idea of TV transmission technology while plowing a field of potatoes. Others evolve over time, the culmination of years of scholarship and forging relationships.
Such was the case with Mark Hager, the driving force behind the new Tea Party Patriots film The Border States of America, a feature-length documentary that examines the crisis of illegal immigration in the United States. A Tea Party Patriots state coordinator in North Carolina and professor of history at Lenoir-Rhyne University, Hager’s journey began with his study of the American sheriff.
“Sheriffs are the only law enforcement branch elected by the people; sheriff’s are the grassroots of law enforcement,” explained Hager. “They have a very special place in America.” They also have a special place along our southern border where they and the citizens they’re sworn to protect and serve face the dangers of huge numbers of people entering the United States illegally. “They have to protect their citizens when the federal government won’t.”
Hager wears several hats. He’s also the founder and national coordinator for the American Security Coalition (ASC), an outreach organization that connects border sheriffs and other law enforcement offices with grassroots groups across the country. “The ASC serves as a bridge to access fact and fiction, especially in regards to U.S. security concerns,” explained Hager.
After developing professional relationships with sheriff’s along the U.S.-Mexico border, Hager made a pair of short films in 2011 and 2012, examining the problems of illegal immigration in Cochise County, Arizona. “I went down to the border over several summers and did some amateur documentaries,” said Hager, who financed both films on a shoestring, using his own money and contributions from friends. His time in the Arizona desert and first-hand experiences with local sheriffs convinced him that when it comes to illegal immigration, “we’re not getting the truth about the matter from either party; not Republicans or Democrats.”
The tipping point for Hager came earlier this year when he learned of unaccompanied minors illegal crossing into the U.S. “Seeing these kids coming over the border this summer, I just thought it would be great if we could get a film crew down there,” said Hager. But this idea was bigger than his first two efforts; this would not be about one county in one state but dozens of counties all along the southern border.
Hager developed his proposal and took it to Tea Party Patriots where it was reviewed by co-founder Jenny Beth Martin and others in the organization. Illegal immigration is a key issue among the group’s local coordinators and supporters, who drive the group’s agenda. The synergy between Hagar’s concept and the overwhelming majority of Tea Party Patriots’ membership was ideal, and the notion of a valuable, tangible resource for local activists was critical in the decision making process. Hagar’s documentary project was quickly reviewed and green-lighted with a six-figure budget.
“I was surprised at how much Tea Party Patriots would put into it,” said Hager, whose work was just beginning. He now had to coordinate the logistics of transportation, communications and scheduled meet-ups with sheriffs for the filming across vast stretches of border.
“The area to cover stretched 1,900 miles beginning with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office and ending just west of Cochise County, Arizona in which much of the area in between is sparse and accommodations tenuous at best,” said Hager. “From Val Verde County west toward Big Bend (Sanderson, TX) has no cell phone signals and in some cases calling near the border pings to a Mexican instead of a U.S. tower.”
Once primary filming was complete, Hagar helped with post-production, working with the producers to make sure this complicated tale was accurately told, not only on the issue of illegal immigration but in regard to the sheriffs who confront it on a daily basis. “Other organizations may start on it and tear it apart,” said Hager. “Tea Party Patriots really understood that sheriffs are different from county to county. I cannot think of any other group that could grasp that better.”
In the end, The Border States of America tells the story envisioned by Hager. “I was hoping that the voices of the sheriffs and residents be heard loud and clear,” he said. “That was achieved and I hope people viewing this will come away with a greater awareness of the danger along our southern border.”
But according to Hager, the risks of illegal immigration and national security extend far beyond the Rio Grande, making it a story that demands to be told. “In essence,” said Hager, “we are all border states now. This documentary achieved this and more.”