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Photojournalist explores border stories from every angle

Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist John Moore has been documenting and photographing life on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border for the last 10 years. A new book titled “Undocumented" collects his images, from Border Patrol agents, to undocumented immigrants, to gang members in Central America.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We close tonight where we began.

    Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist John Moore has been documenting and photographing life on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico line for the last 10 years.

    These images, called "Undocumented," are now a book.

    A warning–this report contains some graphic images.

  • John Moore:

    From the Border Patrol agents, to the undocumented immigrants, to immigrants who were in jail, to gang members in Central America, I photographed them to show a common thread of humanity on all sides of the story.

    I'm John Moore. I'm a senior staff photographer and special correspondent for Getty Images.

    I have been photographing along the U.S.-Mexico border for almost 10 years.

    Physically, the border areas all along the 2,000-mile border look very similar on the Mexican and the American sides. Oftentimes, it's a line that was just drawn through the sand. In other places, the border is formed by the Rio Grande. But, in other ways, each side is entirely different.

    Right now, in Mexico, in many border areas, the drug war is raging and the violence is incredible. In Acapulco, which is, you know, famous for being a tourist site, there, I photographed executions on a daily basis.

    In San Pedro Sula, Honduras, I visited there just this last year, and, there, I was able to photograph actual assassins who do hits for a living.

    You know, part of the story for me has been trying to show why people will take such risks, why people will leave everything behind, whether it's from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, or Mexico. That's where most immigrants come from on their journey to the U.S.

    I traveled to Southern Mexico, into the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, where immigrants would climb aboard freight trains known as The Beast, or La Bestia in Spanish, and the train is called The Beast for a reason, because it's a monstrous way to travel.

    People travel for days, even weeks at a time, on top of the trains, and always in danger of being swept off the top by branches. Many have fallen underneath the wheels and died under the trains or have been dismembered. It's just terrifying.

    And on the U.S. side of the border, I spent many, many hours photographing U.S. border agents as well doing very difficult work in often dangerous situations.

    I spent several days just this last year at the Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, New Mexico. And, there, the trainees go through a month-long program, which starts basically as a boot camp, and they learn how to be agent.

    The Border Patrol draws from people from many walks of life. There are immigrants as Border Patrol agents. Many Border Patrol agents, if not most of them, speak Spanish as their first language. And those who don't speak Spanish to start with have to learn it at the Border Patrol Academy.

    As part of this project, I even flew back on deportation flights with a group of immigrants who had been shackled by the ankles and sent back on a plane.

    There's one picture that still touches me. It's a close-up photograph of two hands, and they're handcuffed together. And a woman was gently caressing a man's hand with her thumb in a very touching and sad moment of comfort.

    Early on in this story for me, I was covering more of a political issue, but I really wanted to go in much deeper to the root causes of immigration and look at the insecurities that Americans felt about border security.

    Even though the numbers of families coming across the border has gone down somewhat since President Trump took office, it's still at historical highs. And every day, people come across the border seeking political asylum in the U.S. And by U.S. law, they're allowed to plead their case.

    I think, as a photojournalist, it's necessary to separate the emotions from the reality as much as I can. I try to photograph the story in as many ways as possible to give a true story of a major issue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So powerful, those pictures.

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