A new documentary premiering today on PBS is one of the latest efforts to shed light on an issue that has claimed the lives of almost 2,000 migrants in the last decade.
"The Undocumented" tells the story of the men, women and children who have died in the Arizona desert while looking for a better life in the United States.
"I feel very strongly that this story needs to move out of the realm of statistics and numbers," director Marco Williams told Arizona Public Media. "People had to be impacted directly; people had to be impacted in a visceral ... emotional level."
Williams focuses on Marcos Hernandez, an immigrant who crossed into the U.S. illegally searching for his father, who disappeared while crossing the Sonoran Desert.
Hernandez's search not only gives the documentary a narrative thrust, but it also adds an emotional core to the story, Williams said.
The director visited Tucson during the summer of 2009, a year when 186 migrants lost their lives in the desert.
The region saw the highest number of migrant deaths in 2010, with 225 remains found. So far this year there have been 46 cases reported by the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office.
The film also follows humanitarian organizations determined to prevent more deaths, Border Patrol agents who must balance enforcement with rescue, and the efforts of the medical examiner's office and the Mexican Consulate in Tucson to identify the remains of border crossers.
Williams was given complete cooperation by then-Chief Medical Examiner Bruce Parks as well as Jerónimo García at the Mexican Consulate.
Through their help he was able to document a migrant's life after death - the identification of the remains, the transfer of the body back home and the family's stories about their loved one's dreams.
The documentary will air as part of PBS' "Independent Lens" series at 10 tonight on KUAT, Channel 6, with an encore showing at 8:30 p.m. May 5 on the UA Channel.
On StarNet: Search the Border Death database at azstarnet.com/borderdeaths for the names of those who have died attempting to cross the border from Mexico