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Ashland man illuminates border violence

An Ashland native is shining a light on the conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border in hopes of making an impact on the 2020 presidential election.

Director Adam Markle is nearing the completion of a documentary about five people who have died in the past decade from border-control violence and detention center conditions.

“We feel it’s timely to get it done by the next presidential election for whoever stays in office or whoever comes in. We want to put the pressure on them,” Markle said.

The documentary is titled “34 Seconds,” because it took that brief amount of time for a 2012 situation to escalate into the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Jose Rodriguez.

On Oct. 10, 2012, U.S. Border Patrol and Customs agents responded to a call of an alleged drug smuggling attempt at the border. The officers said young men began to throw rocks at them. Rodriguez, who was unarmed, was shot 10 times from behind, and U.S. Border Patrol agent Lonnie Ray Swartz was charged with second-degree murder.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection refused to release the surveillance footage of the incident, but prosecutors at Swartz’s trial acknowledged Rodriguez was throwing rocks during a drug smuggling attempt. A jury found Schwartz not guilty in April 2018.

“The overall issue is you have border patrol shooting into another country, which is insane because if Mexican police were shooting into our country, we would have the marines sent in, which is sort of a double-standard,” Markle said. “Essentially, it’s (the film) about immigration and use of force on the border.”

The next story is eerily similar to Rodriguez’s. Sergio Hernandez-Guereca, 15, was fatally shot June 7, 2010, on the Mexican side of the border by a U.S. Border Patrol agent. Hernandez-Guereca also was accused of throwing rocks. No one has been charged, and the family’s civil case will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in November.

The final shooting story is the pivotal part of the documentary, Markle said. It’s about a 20-year-old woman from western Guatemala who was shot in the head in Rio Bravo, Texas, minutes after crossing the border in May 2018.

Claudia Gomez-Ganzalez was trying to emigrate to the U.S. to become an accountant to help her family who were struggling financially.

According to a May 2019 article published by The Guardian, Gomez-Ganzalez’s family still does not know who the officer was or why he shot her.

Markle said this is a turning point in the film because it briefly touches on the fact that many Guatemalans are migrating to the U.S. because the area is suffering from climate change. He said in many villages people rely solely on what they grow, but Guatemala has suffered extreme weather patterns, including long periods of extreme rain and months of drought, destroying a lot of crops.

The documentary also explores the detention centers where migrant children are being housed. Two children — Jakeline Maquin, 7, and Felipe Analonzo-Gomez, 8 — died this year due to illnesses.

Markle said he’s spoken with lawyers and physicians who have toured the facilities, and some who used to work there and are now speaking out against the treatment of the children.

He said he has heard accounts of children not getting water and generally being neglected.

“We’re not necessarily blaming the government, but we’re saying you should clean up your act because it doesn’t look good,” Markle said. “Children all over the world should be protected, and none of these little kids had a say to go, not to go, nor when they were in the border facilities.”

He said this year eight children have died in migrant detention centers.

“Before now, unless they’re lying, according to the Department of Homeland Security, no kids died for 10 years,” Markle said.

He said he was in Mexico filming another project when a friend told him about Rodriguez’s story. After learning that these cases have not been covered much in film, he decided it was a story that needed telling.

“I think our film is unique because I haven’t seen a lot of people covering use of force on the border in film much,” Markle said.

He said the Ashland community has been extremely supportive, and he plans to submit his documentary to the Ashland Independent Film Festival.

He said the film is mostly self-funded, and the skeleton crew of about eight are currently editing to create a rough cut. They have a few more shots to film, and then he expects to earn more funding with the rough cut before moving to more finalized versions.

He said the crew has filmed all along the border and is headed to Guatemala in the next few months.

So far, he said, the U.S. Border Patrol has been withdrawn and secretive, but the crew is going to continue trying to interview officers because he wants their side of the story.

“We need that balance,” Markle said. “My ultimate goal is to just create awareness and tell these family’s stories. It feels like a lot of responsibility getting to tell this story because it’s so important that we tell it right and do the story justice.”

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

Director Adam Markle and co-producer Jessica Solis film at the border between Tijuana and San Diego. Photo courtesy of Adam Markle