see the video here: http://video.pbs.org/video/2365003064
Marcos Hernandez lives and works in Chicago. He came to the United States from Mexico, after a life-threatening border crossing through the Sonora Desert in southern Arizona. Each month, he sends money to his mother in Mexico City to buy medicine for his brother, Gustavo, who needs a kidney transplant. The Undocumented, by acclaimed filmmaker Marco Williams, is Marcos’s story—as well as the story of countless other migrants.
But Marcos has another reason for coming to Chicago. He is searching for his father, Francisco, also an undocumented border crosser, who disappeared in the Sonora Desert while entering the U.S. Marcos’s hunt for his father forms the film’s central narrative thread.
Chronicling Arizona’s deadliest summer months, award-winning documentary and fiction film director Marco Williams (Banished, Two Towns of Jasper, In Search of Our Fathers) weaves Marcos’s search with the efforts of humanitarians and Border Patrol agents who are fighting to prevent migrant deaths, the medical investigators and Mexican Consulate workers who are trying to identify dead border crossers, and Mexican families who are struggling to accept the loss of a loved one.
This is not a passive dialogue. The characters in The Undocumented don’t just talk about migrant deaths; they are immersed in it. They patrol the desert and rescue people from the brink of death. They discover piles of bones picked apart by wild animals. They wheel bodies in and out of refrigerated storage rooms and express their distress over a missing family member. And when the film arrives at the home of a migrant family in Mexico, that family is captured at the very apex of their grief.
In true cinéma vérité style, The Undocumented by Marco Williams reveals the ongoing impact of immigration laws and economic policies on the very people who continue to be affected by them. By going beyond politics, the film also tells a story that is deeply personal.
Humanity Still Blooms in a Desert Bordering Mexico
By NEIL GENZLINGER
Published: April 28, 2013
Though relatively dispassionate bipartisanship has asserted itself in the immigration debate lately, it’s still not hard to find meanspiritedness in some quarters. A man at a recent town-hall meeting held by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, suggested that the best way to stop those who would enter the United States without authorization was with a gun.
And so “The Undocumented,” Monday’s installment of the PBS series “Independent Lens,” is heartening in a sense, even though it deals with a grim subject: the high number of deaths among migrants who try to cross the Arizona desert. A variety of people in this film — border patrol agents, medical personnel, humanitarian workers — quietly demonstrate a commitment to treating human beings with dignity no matter what their immigration status.
“Most of them die from heatstroke,” a medical examiner in Tucson says of the dead being found by the dozen in the Sonoran Desert. “The sun keeps beating down on you. Your body temperature continues to rise until you suffer the consequences.”
The numbers have been growing, he and others say, because of policy and enforcement changes that have reduced the number of places where border crossers can hope for success. That has meant more work for him.
“We do a full autopsy on everybody that passes away that we suspect is a border crosser,” he says. “We believe that it’s important to treat people equally and to treat them just as we would a United States citizen.”
The film, by Marco Williams, follows the painstaking efforts of a number of people to identify the dead so that word can be sent to their families. And it tracks the wrenching journey of one young man who heads north from Mexico to look for his father, who tried to make the crossing in hopes of earning money for another son’s medical needs but had not been heard from for weeks.
Immigration policy and finger-pointing make cameos in the film. One humanitarian worker suggests that the American government is complicit in the deaths because it deliberately forced people into the desert by shutting down urban crossing points, hoping the harsh conditions would act as a deterrent. But a Mexican man blames a different government.
“A Mexican makes this choice because the Mexican government isn’t right,” he explains of the decision to try the dangerous trip, adding: “You can live here, but badly. You can raise a family, but badly.”
Yet the dominant tone of the film is not preachy but melancholy. This is a lament for lives lost, told with a sensitivity that should transcend politics.
Produced by Hip Truth Productions, Two Tone Productions and the Independent Television Service in association with Arizona Public Media and the Fledgling Fund. Directed by Marco Williams; Jane Greenberg, executive producer; Diana Barrett, executive producer for the Fledgling Fund; Whitney Dow, executive producer for Two Tone Productions; Sally Jo Fifer, executive producer for ITVS; Mr. Williams, producer; Thomas Peyton, co-producer; Stanley Tucci, host.