Photographs by John Moore/Getty Images
Story by Kyle Almond, CNN
Programming note: For more about the border, watch the season 3 premiere of “United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell” on Sunday at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
They can face dangerous gangs and treacherous terrain on their way to a heavily militarized border, but every day people continue to take their chances and try to enter the United States illegally from Mexico.
The pull is just too great.
“I've learned that it's very difficult to keep families apart,” said John Moore, a Getty Images photographer who has spent the past 10 years covering the immigration issue from both sides of the border. “Children will travel alone across long distances. Parents who've been deported previously will do anything to get back to their families on the other side of the border.”
Moore’s photos give us a glimpse of what life is like for would-be immigrants and the different reasons why they might begin such a perilous journey. Family is just one of them. Many people are also fleeing because of poverty and gang violence back home.
Moore has traveled to Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala and accompanied people at the start of their trip north. He also provides a view of what awaits: an armed Border Patrol and a divided America. He has had access to many federal agents and gone out with them during some of their patrols.
These experiences are part of Moore’s new photo book, “Undocumented: Immigration and the Militarization of the United States-Mexico Border.” The book has more than 180 pictures and is written in both English and Spanish.
“Through this book I hope that people will have a more nuanced view of immigration and border-security issues,” Moore said. “These issues are often presented as black and white, and they're not at all. There are many shades of gray.”
After living in Latin America for much of his career, Moore has always been keenly aware of the immigration debate. But it wasn’t until he returned to the United States that he recognized what would soon develop into a political powder keg.
In 2010, Arizona passed SB 1070, “which at the time was the toughest anti-immigration law passed in the country,” Moore said. “I started seeing a level of xenophobia and fear of immigrants that became more of a nationwide phenomenon since that time.
“I could see it starting in Arizona back then. At that point really I knew this was going to be an important project and something important to our subscribers.”
Moore drove “every inch” of the US-Mexico border and looked for different ways he could photograph the story.
He began shooting in the desert of Nogales, Arizona, to highlight the dangers immigrants face as they cross the border. In the desert, he would find valuables and other personal items next to skeletal remains.
The age of those crossing has been one of the biggest developments in recent years, Moore said.
“When I first started this project 10 years ago, it was mostly adult men and sometimes women coming across. Beginning really in 2014 and continuing to this day, many of the immigrants now crossing are families or unaccompanied minors.”
One of his photos shows a young boy from Honduras watching a children’s movie from a detention facility in Texas.
“The empty space and the loneliness he must have been feeling comes through in the picture and still stays with me,” Moore said.
Inside the United States, Moore has visited dozens of immigrant communities and helped tell their stories, too. But that’s becoming more difficult over time.
“The US is so divided now politically, and the immigrant community is living in a state of fear and that's made people more wary of photography,” he said. “I'm able to continue to get access. I just have to work harder at it.”
Moore’s Spanish-speaking skills have helped, as has his experience and eagerness to tell everyone’s story.
“In my experience, when I'm open and honest and straightforward with people, I get extraordinary access into their lives,” he said.
That even includes gang members.
Throughout his book, Moore includes portraits of people he has met: immigrants, Border Patrol agents and their prisoners, recently naturalized US citizens, and gang members. The gang members are important to show, Moore said, because it is often extreme violence that has compelled many immigrants to seek political asylum in the United States.
“Photographing different groups with the same style of portrait was a visual way for me to tie many different stories together. … Also these portraits were a way for me to try and humanize the story even more.”
Moore said it was only after the last presidential election that he decided to turn his photos into a book.
“If Hillary Clinton had won the election, immigration would probably not have been such a major theme afterwards,” he said. “With Trump as President, we've seen something very different.”
But despite the country’s polarization right now, he is hopeful that progress will be made.
“The issues of immigration and border security are so big they can seem overwhelming, but if we as a society look at these issues as human issues, then I think we can come up with more humane solutions. I don't know that it will be done, but I think it can be done.”
John Moore is a Getty Images photographer based in New York. His book “Undocumented: Immigration and the Militarization of the United States-Mexico Border” is now available. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.
Photo editor: Brett Roegiers