In today’s National Action Alert, Marco Williams, NYU professor and award-winning filmmaker, discusses his recent film, The Undocumented. In his documentary, Williams calls attention to the human toll taken by our broken immigration system. This interview was carried out over email by Clarissa Perkins, LIRS Media Relations Specialist.
Clarissa Perkins (CP): You recently made a documentary called “The Undocumented,” about migrants who cross the border. What inspired you to research this topic?
Professor Marco Williams (MW): I read a New York Times article about Imperial, California. A gravedigger and a mortuary director took it upon themselves to bury the remains of undocumented border crossers found along the border. I was deeply touched by the humanity displayed by two individuals. They did not allow politics to keep them from doing what was right.
This story of Imperial, California lay dormant with me for a few years. It was awakened by a radio report by Claudine Lomonaco, a Tucson journalist. The story was about a woman from Mexico who searched the Sonora Desert for her sister. I then did further research and discovered the efforts by numerous NGOs in Tucson and the work of the Office of the Pima County Medical Examiner, as well as the Mexican Consulate. These institutions and agencies took it upon themselves to call attention to the human rights crisis occurring along the United States-Mexico border in southern Arizona.
It was at that point that I traveled from NYC to Tucson. This was the beginning of my film.
CP: What were you most surprised to learn when creating the film?
MW: The reasons why and the demographic of the undocumented border crossers. In my film, I met six families in Mexico. They ranged from Indigenous, to ranchers, to working class, to middle class, to highly educated. They came from southern Mexico as well as the capital, Mexico City. They came for work and because they had family—mother, children in the United States.
CP: Can you share a story in the documentary that stuck with you most?
MW: It is the stories of the Mexican families. And it is one not in the film, but will be on my website, theundocumented.com. It is a story told by a wife, a mother of two. Her husband left to cross and has not been heard from since his crossing attempt. It is a love story. It is a story that embodies the depth of the human rights crisis. It is the story of Clemencia and Josefat, but it is all of our stories.
CP: The documentary exposes consequences of our broken immigration system. What policies did you find are most harmful to migrants?
MW: It is the policy of deterrence that is most harmful. That and the ‘Operations’—Gate-Keeper, Hold the Line, Safeguard—that have resulted in a level of militarization of urban crossings, while leaving the mountains, canals, and desert less fortified. The belief, that the hazardous terrains would deter undocumented migrants from crossing into the United States.
Tragically, it increased the number of migrant deaths—from 20 or so a year prior to 1998 to an average of 200 since 1998.
CP: What kind of impact do you think this film will have on the national immigration debate?
MW: It is my sincere wish that my film elevates migrant deaths into the nation’s consciousness. When conversations concerning immigration reform occur, migrant deaths are rarely, if at all, discussed. Migrant deaths are the “ground zero” of our nation’s immigration policy.
The term “border security” allows us as a nation to ignore this human rights crisis.