Exclusive interview: Journalist Lilia Luciano on finding humanity amidst political rhetoric on Discovery’s Border Live

Accomplished and acutely aware of her subject matter, Lilia takes us to the problematic border between Mexico and the USA. Pic credit: Discovery
Accomplished and acutely aware of her subject matter, Lilia takes us to the problematic border between Mexico and the USA. Pic credit: Discovery

Accomplished journalists Bill Weir and Lilia Luciano are set to team up to report from the U.S.-Mexico border as part of six shows broadcasting live on Discovery.

From gang members to asylum seekers, Luciano sifts through the political rhetoric that has driven the media. She compares the official POTUS viewpoint with boots on the ground reporting and attempts to destigmatize those who have been demonized by some politicians.

Puerto Rican-native Luciano is an award-winning television investigative journalist, filmmaker, and public speaker. Discovery’s six-part multiplatform series is a game changer that she hopes will open eyes and hearts to the plight of South Americans on foot toting their possessions and children from countries where violence has given them no choice.

Each week, investigative journalist Lilia Luciano will be immersed in the field and tackle stories by interviewing people who live and work along the border and can offer valuable insight.

The network and production company Lucky 8 are working with the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection.

The production will be filmed with officers and special agents at key border sites from Nogales, Ariz., in the west to the Rio Grande Valley and to points eastward.

The production will also feature on-the-ground interviews with law enforcement offices in Texas including the City of San Juan Police Department and Cameron County Sheriff’s Office as well as in Arizona with the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office. Experts Lenny DePaul, a retired Chief Inspector with the U.S. Marshal Service, and Dr. Victor M. Manjarrez, Jr., a retired Chief Patrol Agent who served in both Tucson and El Paso Sectors are featured interviews as well.

We spoke with Lilia about this exciting live reporting that hopefully will shed more light on this issue that has polarized a nation.

Monsters and Critics: This six-part series, please give us the broad strokes for people to understand what Border Live is and how you play a part in it.

Lilia Luciano: Yes, Border Live’s going to be a live show. It’s unprecedented. It’s really one of kind. It’s a live experience. It’s going to be every week. It’ll air every week from 9:00pm until 11:00 on Discovery Channel, every Wednesday night, and what we’re doing is bringing this unfiltered version of what life is like along the border.

We’re going to be embedding with law enforcement and border enforcement agencies. We have several crews in different agencies around the border, in Texas and Arizona, and what I’m doing is I’m basically embedding with communities and bringing the stories of people who live and work and survive along the border.

Whether it’s immigrants, asylum seekers, local people who work and live here and are somehow impacted with whatever happens on the border, with policy changes or what we see in the news, how it impacts their daily lives.

And also doing local law enforcement and border enforcement to get to know those people at a very human and personal level and understand what their job is like.

M&C: Okay, I’m firing Donald Trump, and I’m electing you right now as president of the United States. How would you fix what’s going on right now?

Lilia: Well, I have covered Central, South America. I have covered Central America from the U.S., and I have covered Mexico from the U.S. I think the most crucial, I think, the priority right now that we as a country should be focusing on is what makes people have to leave desperately, their countries?

I don’t think anybody really wants to walk across entire countries and hope for the best with their families, uprooting their entire lives. I think that there is a need for more focus and understanding, communication, humanity policy-wise, not just at the border, but beyond that. And I’ve talked to a lot of people out here, and I think there’s a lot of agreement on that.

You have to go to the roots of the issues that are pushing so many more people to come and to face the dangers of either coming individually and having to face cartels and the insecurities of coming on their own, and pay thousands of dollars, which I couldn’t imagine just paying and owing someone, to get their families out, or coming as people in the caravans are.

So I think it’s really important to look at what is causing the inequality, the poverty, and the insecurity, and how we as a nation can help alleviate those pains.

M&C: Speculative question. Why do you think Trump has used demonizing language in referring to people of various Hispanic origin, not just Mexicans? Why is he doing this?

Lilia: I don’t like to talk about what people’s intentions are, because I’m not in their minds, and I don’t know that I can say that anybody is intentionally demonizing the other or why that would become of certain communications that may or may not be coming from the administration.

But I think, and my goal has always been, as a Hispanic woman, to connect people to each other’s suffering and to each other’s virtues, and I think we need to understand each other. As journalists, we need to hold the powerful accountable, but we also need to put ourselves in the positions and the feet of everyone that is part of the story.

So I just wonder. I don’t know. Let’s say, I don’t know what drives anybody to describe people in the way that they do. I don’t think that the president thinks that or says that everybody is of a certain kind, but I do fear that, especially nowadays with such a … I love having so many platforms to consume news, but sometimes the lines are blurred and what is journalism and what isn’t, and there’s so much opinion and bias outlets out there that will paint the picture one way or another.

And I think, talking about a caravan, not everybody is seeking asylum and committing extreme violence. People are looking for opportunities. And certainly, not a majority, I don’t believe, although I’m not covering the caravan, but of course, not a majority of people are gang members or criminals as sometimes they are described.

I do understand, and it’s still happening out here with border enforcement, that it’s real. The violence is real. The threat of the cartels are real. The drugs that come into this country are real because we want them, because we consume them as Americans, and that’s also important to keep in mind. But it’s not black and white. It’s not black or white.

There’s an important role that I think the enforcement agencies play, and how that role is channeled is up to whatever challenges are presented to them as these people are trying to do their jobs. Most of them are good. Sure, there are people who have different intentions, but what we’re trying to do here is not at all shape anybody’s opinion, just inform, just shed light on what actually is happening, and why people do what they do rather than covering news.

We’re not covering news. We’re not covering breaking news. We’re not breaking on headlines. We’re doing the opposite of that. We’re actually just spending time and bringing those interactions live, and my story, sometimes in a documentary format, where we get to sit down and spend time with people rather than just breaking news.

M&C: Two-part question. As an investigative journalist, this is a very dangerous time with the murder of Khashoggi allegedly by the Saudis, but all over the world. Journalists are being killed and imprisoned. Please talk about how you protect your psyche and your safety.

Lilia: I think as journalists, I think that people who do the kind of journalism that I love to do, there’s probably some kind of something wrong in our head in terms of perceived fear. I don’t think I feel as much as fear as some people. It’s very delusional.

You kind of walk around thinking that nothing’s going to happen to you, and I think that’s the initial drive, like you’re, “Oh, I’m fine. Nothing’s going to happen,” and you’re just following the story, and wherever the story takes you, that’s where you go.

However, I have been in situations where I have felt threatened, especially when doing my documentary in Columbia and going to areas where I didn’t really know the powers that be, so you learn. I think the most important thing that I do, and for this show I’ve interviewed people who are murderers, extremely dangerous and just treating them as human beings and kind of.

I think we all want our stories to be heard, and perhaps not our motivations to be understood, but at least listened to. And so I think yeah, there are parts and there are situations where and places in the world where journalists are certainly not safe.

I met an incredible journalist, Raed Fares, in the Freedom Forum last year, and he was just killed. He was murdered in Syria, and it broke my heart because there are people who are completely fearless and dedicated to this career, to informing, knowing that it can cost them their lives.

Now, I don’t think that is I am at anywhere near that kind of danger, but I think it’s a calling, and you follow the story, you tell people’s stories, and you go to find the voices and people whose voices are not often heard or don’t really resonate, and that’s what you find.

And I’ve found that, even with dangerous people who have made very poor choices, as long as there’s respect and humanity and that we get along and the message that they want to send is heard, not necessarily promoted, but at least heard.

M&C:  You hail from Puerto Rico. Many had to leave their businesses and their homes behind, and come to Florida because there was just no infrastructure left and nothing that they could rebuild upon. If you could give me your opinion about that.

Lilia: Yes, I think above all else, I am Puerto Rican. I’ve always felt that before being anything else. A member of my family, a woman, anything else. I am, and I feel more than anything else, being Puerto Rican is the majority of what my identity and who I am, and so I suffer greatly for what happens on the island.

I’ve been in Puerto Rico a number of times since Maria, and it’s extremely sad.

I think this is not new, and I’m not talking specifically about this administration and the island or this administration and the U.S., but Puerto Rico has been subjected to a colonial relationship with the U.S. where we don’t have a say in what really happens on the island, and I think it’s really important to understand that when dealing with something like the catastrophe that happened in Maria.

I did a documentary called Puerto Rico Rises that looks at the economy of Puerto Rico and how we’ve been persecuted for our ideals but also pretty much used from time to time for the benefit of others. We always feel like somebody is trying to take advantage of opportunities there, and then we are left behind with holding the bill.

I’m really concerned about what’s going to happen after Maria with education, with a number of sectors that if this happened in the past, in other places, are sometimes used for profit as opposed to for the benefit of the people of Puerto Rico.

I suffer. I have many family members who have left the island. Unfortunately, a lot of my close relatives did well after Maria, but we’re yet to see how we can as a people be allowed to take a little bit more ownership of what happens in the future and also build autonomy in food. I think there’s great potential for … and given the incentives that we have, to build a strong technology sector.

I think there’s a lot of talent in Puerto Rico that flees because of a lack of opportunity, but I think given where we exist now in a place where, hey, power doesn’t need to be consolidated, and especially tech companies and all that can come up with great solutions that are more empowering as the people who will implement them. I mean, from the people, not who implement them, but who develop them and use them.

I have high hopes for what can happen, but I’m also watchful of what I’m seeing could be a future of even less autonomy.

Border Live premieres live on Wednesday, December 5, From 9-11 PM ET/PT on Discovery.

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