Karl Penhaul got fired from his job as an international correspondent at CNN last June, after firing off a series of (now deleted) tweets calling Donald Trump a “racist idiot” “with an ugly yellow comb-over.”

So imagine Penhaul’s surprise when last week, Trump released his latest ad, titled “Two Americas: Immigration,” featuring some of Penhaul’s own footage.

“It’s bizarre, isn’t it?” Penhaul, who learned about the ad thanks to super sleuths on Twitter, says. “What are the odds?”

Penhaul says having his footage used without his permission is “an evil of the Internet.” Rihanna lifted the same shots in her music video for the song “American Oxygen.” Besides, the clip belongs to CNN, though a source with information on the subject tells WIRED the Trump campaign didn’t license the footage.

What frustrates Penhaul as much, if not more, than all this is the fact that he says the Trump ad warps the video’s original intent.

[embedded content]

The clip in question shows an old freight train barreling down a track with hundreds of mostly young men perched in various positions on its roof. In Trump’s ad, the video is zoomed in and tinged a slight blue, but there’s little question based on WIRED’s analysis of the video–and Penhaul’s–that it’s his shot. (The Trump campaign didn’t respond to WIRED’s request for comment on the clip’s origins.) Though the men on the train are faceless and nameless, the ad’s voiceover, which describes what the country would be like under Hillary Clinton, casts them as a clear and present threat. “Illegal immigrants convicted of committing crimes get to stay,” the voice says. “Our border open. It’s more of the same, but worse.”

[embedded content]

It is, Penhaul says, precisely the opposite of what he hoped to achieve when he spent three long weeks back in June 2010 reporting for CNN about what is alternately called the Mexican Train of Death or The Beast. Prior to 2014, when the rail company began banning migrants from riding on it, people looking to come to the United States from Central America would climb on top of the train, and take it from southern Mexico to the southern US border. Penhaul wanted to show the world who those people are.

“Instead of them being the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US, we wanted to meet Juan and Jose and Maria,” Penhaul says, “so we could humanize the issue, so we could find out what was driving them, to find out their concerns, to know them as human beings.”

Penhaul remembers spending days scoping out the shot that eventually landed in Trump’s ad. The Train of Death, as one might expect, doesn’t run on a particular schedule, so Penhaul logged a lot of hours waiting on the side of the tracks for the train to pass. When it eventually came, he says he raced down the track, and up the rusty ladder to the top of another retired freight train. After getting the shot, he hopped on the train himself, he says, “knowing that like the other migrants you can fall off or be robbed by criminal gangs or corrupt officials.”

What Penhaul found when he got on board is what he calls a “chain of human misery,” in which immigrants from mainly Central American countries like Honduras and El Salvador, were fleeing for their safety, taking substantial risks to avoid a worse fate at home.

Along the way, Penhaul met people like Jessica Ochoa who had lost a leg the year before, after falling off the train while fleeing gang violence in El Salvador. And she was one of the lucky ones. Many die along the route Penhaul documented. But Ochoa’s journey to the United States was only postponed by the gruesome injury, not cancelled. A year and a half ago, Penhaul says, Ochoa tried again, this time taking a bus to the border, and paying gangs to allow her to cross into the US on foot.

“It would be really great to have Trump and his advisors go meet these people face to face,” Penhaul says. “We’ll see if you, as a human being, can still really make those comments.”

He also remembers meeting people like Antonio Guzman, a Guatemalan immigrant who had been deported from the US and was trying his luck again. In Michigan, before he was forced to leave, Guzman told Penhaul, he’d been named employee of the month at the Applebee’s where he worked. “Don’t tell me Antonio is a bad guy,” Penhaul says. “He’s earned money washing dishes, doing these shitty jobs in the US, and being recognized by his employer as being a good worker.”

“To see a clip pulled out of that to reinforce the kind of message that Trump is peddling is not great,” he adds.

Penhaul isn’t the only one who experienced the Train of Death this way. Author Susan Nazario wrote about one 11-year-old Honduran boy’s harrowing trip on the train for her book Enrique’s Journey. And photographer Michelle Frankfurter spent six years on and off photographing passengers on the train for her book Destino. “The conditions on the train are horrible. It’s an arduous journey and nobody undertakes that lightly,” Frankfurter says. “I consider them refugees.”

None of this is to say that Penhaul didn’t encounter the kinds of criminals and rapists that Trump infamously described in a campaign speech last year. Gang fighting and robberies are common on the route, and Penhaul says he spoke to women who began taking birth control pills before embarking on the journey, because they knew they might be raped.

But the vast majority of the people on board are victims of these crimes, not perpetrators. And Penhaul says many of the perpetrators aren’t trying to get into the US. They’re merely preying on the weak. Trump’s ad, Penhaul says, “is flipping that on its head.”


  1. Julien Couvreur

    You mean like trolls who use insults like “retards”? I think I’m clear who’s civilized now 😛
    Also, I must say this line of reasoning seems broken as lies and propaganda can be rebutted. So I find it ironic that we’re supposed to accept Wired’s “out there” opinion pieces without opportunity to question *them*…

  2. Pedro U. D. I. C. S. I. P.

    Because some articles will just attract the hugest retards ever, spreading lies and hateful propaganda (like the one that got Milo – the idiot troll – banned from Twitter).

    Glad they do it. It’s a smart decision.

  3. Pedro U. D. I. C. S. I. P.

    Blah-blah my ass. Trump used unauthorized footage to make the opposite point. This is why we will never by President. He doesn’t have the common decency and empathy to do it. Yeah, now let’s sue the billionaire with his $10M lawyers and expect a fair trial.

    He’s a stain of an human being. “Sad, very sad”. #NeverTrump

  4. ArthurVandelay

    Kind of like Trumps wife Melania. I guess after lying on her application she’ll be deported like the other illegals…

  5. Wile E. Coli

    That is because they know what the comments are going to be and they’re rather not face the truth. I mean.. really. Look at some of the crap these idiots write.

  6. Barnaby Jones

    Any website without a comment section is an echo chamber, a mouthpiece, a bazooka full-o-lies… And Wired does indeed shut them off, the Leslie Jones piece, a piece ABOUT public opinion and quoting cherrypicked opinions, does not have comments.

    I stopped reading BBC years ago because their lack of comments…

  7. Barnaby Jones

    Those jobs belong to Americans.

    This should not be controversial.

  8. Andrew Purvis

    I notice that every comment so far is focusing on the question of immigration (even when they write, as in the case of Tom J, “emigrate”). The fact that the Trump campaign used footage it did not own and did not pay a licensing fee to use seems not to bother anyone.

  9. Julien Couvreur

    Has anyone noticed how Wired has comments disabled on some posts, but not others?
    As far as I can tell, it is not related to section, but rather the degree they might irritate some of their readers, I suspect. Maybe it’s time to unsubscribe…

  10. Very true. I’m not unwilling to budge on amnesty, but it would take some large steps forward for me to be convinced that what was promised would be upheld.

    This, of course, is at heart with one of the biggest, and least spoken of, issues in our nation – a government that can choose to what extent, if any, to enforce laws on the books. When the government can do that, it essentially voids the legislative branch and the laws that are created. When that happens, freedom and representative government is degraded. No good comes of it.

  11. Charles Martel

    In my mind, if anyone wants to push for a new round of amnesty (What they call “comprehensive”), I call on them to enforce the laws already on the books, and only once the politicians prove that they are willing to do that, should the American public even consider trusting them with another round of some form of amnesty.

    Amnesty/(Comprehensive Immigration Reform) is meaningless without solving the problem in the first place.

    Ultimately, the problem goes back to the lawlessness of the nations people are illegally immigrating from. Without a functioning justice system there can be no economy and economic hope and freedom for a nation’s people.

  12. Being near ground zero of human trafficking, that form of slavery part of our government wants to pretend has no connection with continuing to leave our border porous (Hint: They tend to have a D after their name) – I find trying to continue this status quo, as you’ve noted, the moral low ground, even while its supporters try to trot poster children in front of us.

    The message of the pro-illegal immigration crowd is to continue to not solve the problem. To simply repeat the mistakes of 1986 (and yes, well aware of who was in the White House then, it was still a mistake), and end up right back here in a few years to give amnesty to yet more people without doing anything to stop it, or seemingly even the evils that it creates. Instead, they pretend there are no consequences to a porous border, and that those of us who oppose it as xenophobic monsters.

    As a side note – just saw the FBI is seeking recruits: The top requirement for a candidate – be a U.S. Citizen. If it’s not OK for our government to hire illegals, why is our government giving a pass to businesses who do?

    Punish the businesses who hire them, remove the reward for immigrating illegally – and actually enforce the law. This will stop illegal immigration from being an issue more than just putting up a wall. At the same time, work to make immigrating here legally less of an ordeal, and reward those with skills and possibilities who want to live here. The scales will balance.

    For those seeking amnesty for forgiveness after the fact, I’m sorry. I’m doubly sorry if you didn’t come here by choice, but someone chose to bring you here improperly – perhaps you should have a discussion with them.

  13. Charles Martel

    The video is like a Rorschach Test and tell a lot about the person seeing them.

    Yes. They are human beings. But immigrants from other South American countries are sure hoping that they don’t get caught in Mexico, because Mexico doesn’t put up with people moving into their country illegally, but Mexico loves it when Mexicans illegally move to the US because they wire a LOT of money back to Mexico.

    We had “comprehensive immigration reform” back in 1986 with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (see Wikipedia). It included large scale amnesty to account for people that have already established themselves in the US, legalized seasonal illegal/undocumented agricultural labor, and made it illegal to hire people in the country illegally. It held the employers responsible. Many people “self-deported” when they couldn’t find jobs.

    If the government had upheld the law we would not have 12 million people in the country that are legally ineligible to work. More legal laborers will have jobs. The unemployment rate would be lower. Wages would be higher. Instead, there was widespread amnesty and we are in an even worse situation today because the politicians granted the amnesty but failed to enforce the rest of the law. Earlier on Tyson Foods and other companies were fined for violating the law, after that they began buying politicians in order to hire cheap foreign labor rather than the more expensive locals.

    The Wired story points out a guy who had been deported had been an Applebees employee-of-the-month as a dishwasher. Yes. It sounds like he was a good employee that Applebees benefited from. But it doesn’t point out that he took the job from a person in the country legally. Chances are that he made it back to Michigan and is working in that same Applebee’s kitchen right now.

    The next time you hear a politician talk about “comprehensive immigration reform” remember 1986 and what it means when a politicians lips are moving.

  14. The United States, as does every other country in the world, has a system to allow anyone to emigrate legally. As a sovereign country we have every right to determine who we let in. Immigration can be a huge benefit to the country, but uncontrolled illegal immigration is what people are upset about. If you choose to break the law, then you are responsible for the consequences.

  15. YeahRightPal

    This a story about illegal immigration. The video angle is peripheral blah-blah.

    If Penhaul is so upset with Trump, let him sue.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *