In an effort to further expose the plight of the thousands of Central American migrants in Tijuana camps who are hoping to apply for political asylum in the U.S. (a group commonly referred to as "the migrant caravan"), Las Vegas-based rock-pop group the Killers have released a controversial new protest song titled "Land of the Free," and teamed with Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Spike Lee to direct the music video.
Released on Monday, Jan. 14, the video follows the months-long perilous journey the thousands of men, women and children endured en route to the San Ysidro Port of Entry at the U.S.-Mexico border -- and also appears to contain footage of the dire conditions they now face in Tijuana, where many of them await asylum hearings in the United States. Longtime U.S. law granted asylum-seekers the right to await those same hearings on the U.S. side of the border, but on Dec. 20, after the migrant caravan arrived in Tijuana, the Department of Homeland Security issued a new policy that requires undocumented immigrants to wait in Mexico while their asylum claims are processed.
The migrant caravan -- which is largely made up of individuals fleeing violence, poverty and crime in countries such as Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador -- was met with unwavering resistance from President Donald Trump.
Even though Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum declared the situation a humanitarian crisis on Nov. 22 and requested aid from the United Nation's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Trump described the migrant caravan as "a national emergency" that "will be stopped" in an Oct. 25 tweet, and has cited the caravan in his call for the construction of a wall along the U.S. Southern border (a demand which Trump is also now using to justify the partial shutdown of the U.S. government).
Since the caravan's arrival in Tijuana, the humanitarian crisis has continued to unfold at the border. On Nov. 25, U.S. border agents fired tear gas on hundreds of migrants -- which can be seen in the "Land of the Free" video footage -- after some individuals attempted to gain entry to the U.S. through fencing and wire separating the two countries.
The migrant caravan is not the only issue Killers frontman Brandon Flowers writes about in the sobering new song. Taking aim at myriad hot-button topics such as gun violence, for-profit prisons, and the border wall, Flowers released a statement via the band's Instagram account on Jan. 14 explaining his state of mind while penning its lyrics.
On December 14th 2012, I woke up, unlocked my phone, and, like so many others, saw the pleas to "Pray for Sandy Hook." The news was devastating. Heart wrenching. A gut punch. But, sadly, not as shocking as it should have been. As a father I'll never fully comprehend what that community and those parents went through. But my church upbringing taught me to mourn with those that mourn and I did it the best way that I knew how. I cried for those kids and teachers. I got on my knees and I prayed for those families.
If there was a single moment that I mentally began to assemble "Land of the Free," that was it. In the months and years that followed, American would be hit with an onslaught of more mass shootings of innocents and too many examples of racial injustice to ignore. After some self education and soul searching -- with the help of great beacons like Ava DuVernay's "13th," and my friend Jimmy Kimmel's powerful opening monologues -- I couldn't help but sit down and commit how I was feeling into a song.
We dishonor our values, our ancestors and our heritage when we tear gas our brothers and sisters seeking asylum. I see my family in the faces of these vulnerable people. After all, it wasn't that long ago that my grandmother and her family immigrated from Lithuania to escape the U.S.S.R.'s oppression. They chose to leave everything they knew behind to come to America, and work grueling jobs in dangerous coal mines, rather than endure tyranny at home.
I love my country. I knew that these are complicated issues but whether you stand to the left, right, or straddle the line, you've gotta believe that we can do better.
- Brandon Flowers
In a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Lee (whose latest film, 2018's "BlacKkKlansman," was nominated for four 2019 Golden Globes including Best Director) explained that he had been approached by Flowers directly.
"He saw 'BlacKkKlansman,' said he loved it," Lee said. "['Land of the Free' is] a great protest song. He said, 'What can you do with this?'"
Plenty, apparently. During a Jan. 16 interview on "CNN Tonight with Don Lemon," Lee elaborated on the concept behind the short film.
"My intent was to change the narrative ... we wanted to show the faces, the humanity, women, mothers, young children. They're not criminals."
As expected, the song has sparked controversy around the world with its various political messages.
In a review, Rolling Stone's Ryan Reed wrote, "The Killers contrast a mythic American dream with a darker, more depressing vision of U.S. life in their scathing new song ... The singer uses 'the land of the free' as an ironic refrain, citing the injustices that seemingly shouldn't occur in such a society."
Conversely, while HITC's Christopher Weston seemed to appreciate the song's political slant, he criticized its delivery: "Subtlety isn’t exactly the aim of the game here, as frontman Brandon Flowers lays the cards out on the table for all to see. It’s incredibly preachy, but one can’t deny that this is exactly what the singer must have been going for when putting pen to paper. It’s perhaps a little too pronounced ... In terms of the prominent lyricism, it may prove more divisive with fans, who could deem it too painstakingly obvious."
Mike Vanderbilt, of the AV Club, reconciled both sides: "It’s all very on the nose, but in these troubled times, being brash and blatant is the only way to get the message through."
The humanitarian crisis at the Tijuana border may be poised to worsen in the coming weeks. Another caravan, consisting of approximately 2,000 migrants, departed Honduras on Jan. 15 and is currently making its way to the U.S.-Mexico border to join those already awaiting asylum hearings.