Anastasiya Bolton is an Emmy award-winning television reporter who spent more than 20 years telling stories. For 12 years she reported at 9NEWS in Denver. She moved to Houston in 2018 and traveled the country, covering conversations about abortion, race, guns and immigration for An Imperfect Union, a digital-first program for Facebook Watch. In 2021 she spent more than a year telling immigration stories from the U.S. Mexico border in Texas. She now has her own media consulting company – ViKSTORY Media LLC., named it after her grandfather, Viktor, a life-long journalist in the former Soviet Union. She lives with her husband and 8-year-old son.
After you left Denver for Houston you spent a lot of time on assignment at the border. What were some of your impressions while you were there?
The life of people on both sides of the U.S. Mexico border in Texas is interconnected. People live in Mexico, go to work or school in Texas. They cross the border several times a day, just like we cross county lines when driving. There are families who live in Texas and cross to get healthcare in Mexico or visit families who choose to live there. These are communities who share culture, language, traditions, separated by a wall, the river and often, the immigration system. Outside big influxes of migrants that have been widely documented, where people are sleeping on the streets, on an average day, people I’ve talked to who live in border towns don’t have migration or immigration at the top of their minds. But law enforcement and ranchers will tell you they deal with migration issues regularly. They’re frustrated, tired and under-resourced. So really, it’s several different worlds colliding. After covering various angles related to immigration, I wonder why, considering ALL the different incredible things humans are capable of, we refuse to find workable, safe, respectful, and humane solutions to the movement of people.
How are families who come across the border treated?
I can only speak to what I’ve seen myself and the treatment I witnessed has been kind and respectful. But I was also there as an observer with a camera. I am very aware of reports of poor treatment and deaths. Many things happen when people think no one is watching.
From what you’ve observed how challenging is it for those coming across the border to do what is needed to stay in the U.S?
From the migrants and immigration attorneys we interviewed, the odds appear to be stacked against success. For example: any sort of paperwork takes months at best or years. Imagine if you had to renew your driver’s license, it’s expired, you can’t drive and the wait to get a new one is at least 6 months (on the short side). What do you do? So now apply this to essentially every single document needed to do something legally in this country for a person who just got here. The immigration system is incredibly complicated. There are language barriers, there are barriers to getting access to legal help. Let’s take a work permit – people want to work; they need to work. They apply to the U.S. government to get that. The wait, when I was talking to immigration experts about it, a year ago, was months. People wait years for a hearing that determines if they can stay. Years to get their families here. I’m not talking distant relatives. I’m talking wife and kids. The immigration system and the work permit system doesn’t only affect people who are trying to work in the U.S. it affects American businesses. There aren’t enough people to work in the dairy farms year-round and perform seasonal work on farms that grow food. This creates lots of issues, including a market for undocumented work and abuses of undocumented workers. If there is one thing I learned about immigration while covering it, is that it affects every single one of us in one way or another.
As a mom yourself, can you imagine taking the journey with children?
It’s a complicated question. One part of me knows I’d do anything for my son, ANYTHING. But another part of me wonders if I would be brave enough to cross multiple countries on foot with a child, be subjected to extortion, robbery, assault, rape. I could die during the trip. Many people do. Who’d take care of him then? I’m not even talking about hunger, homelessness, weather and natural elements like mosquitos, shrubbery that literally stabs you, etc. This journey is not safe for anyone. Texas law enforcement working in border communities have told me what happens to migrant women. I’ve interviewed mothers who’ve taken the journey, they told me it was safer to leave than stay in their home countries. It was safer to send their kids alone across the border with a coyote, than have them stay in a migrant camp, or worse yet, go back.
Was there a particular story that made you emotional or angry?
There is one particular story that still, even a few years removed, I have a hard time telling. I get chocked up. In March of 2021, my partner, photojournalist Jose Sanchez and I were on the border together for the first time. We were not far from Brownsville, TX on the banks of the Rio Grande. Local law enforcement took us out on their all-terrain vehicles. We came across a group of 82 people, who were crossing the river from Mexico into Texas. There were lots of families with children, adults and several children traveling without a parent or a guardian. Alone. We met a little girl. She told law enforcement she was 8. She was tiny for an 8-year-old. Her hair in two braids, she was wearing jeans and a purple hoodie. It was obvious she was very quiet, shy. She tried not to make eye contact and kept her head down when talking. She was gripping a small bundle of plastic bags in her little hands, the kind of bags we use to put our fruit or vegetables at the grocery store. That was all she had. The law enforcement officer, in Spanish, asked her what that was. One by one she removed the plastic bags and showed him a piece of paper not bigger than her hand, on it, a handwritten note with a name and phone number of what could be her relatives in the U.S., a home her family who sent her here, thought would be safer and better for her. She had this precious information bundled up in plastic to protect from the weather and the river. That is all she had. She was little. She was alone. She was likely scared. And my heart broke. As journalists, it’s not about MY feelings, it’s about what I observe and how others feel. But there are moments like this… where I was and am –just human.