Documentary Review: The Undocumented

How much do you think about border crossings? If you are like me and live on a coast, probably not as much as those that live in border states. The Undocumented takes a very different approach to those who not only cross and the families left behind by focusing on the ones we don’t think about, those who in the process.

Undocumented border fence

US/Mexican border fence, Southern Arizona
Photo Credit: Matt Nager

While at Full Frame Documentary Festival I sat in on the screening of The Undocumented. Director Marco Williams is no stranger to Full Frame and so his screening was a hot ticket. Even so i was completely unprepared for what i was about to see.

Audience filling up for Ash/ The Undocumented....

Audience filling up for Ash/ The Undocumented.  via notthecar

The Undocumented opens with border agents. They explain that during every single shift, every day somebody tries to cross the border. The agents are working an area that has an unfinished fence. The show where holes have been dug and filled with cement, and sure enough they caught a group that is crossing. This particular area is ripe for crossing into Arizona. because of the conditions of the land and the amount of time it takes to walk many die along this route. Part of Border patrol’s job is to collect these remains which are sent to be identified. The shift from tired men and women who when found are given water and then driven to be processed and released back on the Mexico side changes to a body found in the desert. No ID, hard to identify clothing and in some cases body parts in various locations.

The Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner and the Mexican Consulate of Tucson work to ID the bodies. If phone numbers or ID is found the bodies are sent back to the families for proper burial. if there is no contact, bodies are stored with details uploaded into a database. The Undocumented makes you uncomfortable and it should. It seeks to remind you that at the end of the day we are all human and the goal of these two agencies working together is to bring closure to families when a border crosser does not contact the family after a period of time. We see several families on both sides of the border hoping for news, hoping for a reunion alive or dead. the solemn burials, the broken apart families, the tearful calls. This film shines a light on the more than 1500 bodies that have been recovered in the past 13 years. The Undocumented doesn’t advocate on either side on the immigration it more shows what’s being done for those that are not identifiable.

Undocumented bodies waiting for ID

Migrant bodies waiting for identification
Photo Credit: Matt Nager

After the film there was a Q&A with the director Marco Williams as well as Marcos Hernandez, an undocumented Mexican who crossed in search of his father and Kat Rodriguez of Derechos Humanos a community organization who helps families based on the information from the Medical examiner and tries to put a face and name to every body found and return remains to the families. the film took home Honorable mention in The Kathleen Bryan Edwards Award for Human Rights.

The Undocumented is airing on PBS: Independent Lens series beginning April 29th. Times vary by location. You can plug in your zip code here to find when it will be airing in your area. The film should also be available via the PBS iPad app during the month of May.

Watch Coming to Independent Lens: The Undocumented on PBS. See more from Independent Lens.

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