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THE UNDOCUMENTED/ A movie on the tragedy of immigration

May Fri 10, 2013

Clemencia holds up a photo of her husband, Josefat, who disappeared in the Sonoran Desert. Photo courtesy of www.theundocumented.co  Clemencia holds up a photo of her husband, Josefat, who disappeared in the Sonoran Desert. Photo courtesy of www.theundocumented.co

It's a safe bet that as the United States Senate considers a bipartisan bill this week to reform the nation's immigration laws, a Mexican national will die in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona in an effort to walk into the United States.

According to the human rights group, No More Deaths/No Mas Muertas, 179 migrants' remains were found last year in Arizona's border counties. These are men, women and children who risked everything for the American Dream, including their lives. While fewer Mexicans are attempting to enter the United States, the number of people perishing in the desert while trying is on the rise.

Filmmaker Marco Williams documents the plight of these migrants in his movie "The Undocumented. " Anyone with an opinion about immigration to the United States should watch this brutal film, which puts a human face on a polarized debate. It is available at the pbs.org website through the end of the month and also on the PBS app.

Four hundred and seventeen border crossers died trying to enter the United States in 2009, as compared to 9 deaths in 1990 and 201 in 2005, according to statistics compiled by the United States Border Patrol. Most of those deaths take place in the Arizona section of the Sonoran Desert, the hottest of North American deserts. Immigration researchers say the reason for the increase in deaths is that the United States in 1994 tightened crossings in urban areas, such as El Paso, Texas and San Diego, California. This so-called funnel effect left migrants facing remote sections of the desert to gain access to the United States.

Williams painstakingly tells the stories of families who lose loved ones in the desert, particularly during the unforgiving summer months, where nighttime temperatures reach 100 degrees and water is scarce. He follows US Border Patrol agents as they discover the dying and the dead in the desert. He follows the staff of the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office and the Tuscon office of the Mexican consulate as they try to track down the identities of the discovered remains, using for clues torn clothing and underwear, scraps of papers found in pockets, and worn shoes.

Finally, Williams' narrative travels to Mexico itself, as loved ones try to face the loss of their loved ones, as they pray for and bury their dead. Through it all, the viewer learns the individual life stories of people who died in their efforts to reach the United States.

The narratives weave together slowly and powerfully, with neither polemic nor politics.

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