Monday, December 01, 2008

"Wetback: The Undocumented Documentary": a harrowing, up-close look at illegal immigration, both sides


"Wetback: The Undocumented Documentary", directed by Arturo Perez Torres, released by ReThink Films and National Geographic in 2005, 90 min., is a harrowing documentary that really does present both sides of the illegal immigration issue. (I don’t know if “ReThink” is related to “ThinkFilm”.) Warner Brothers distributes the DVD.

The first two thirds of the film trace the movements of a number of men from Honduras and El Salvador, who have to pass through Guatemala and Mexico to get to the United States. The film shows the crossing across the Suchiate River from Guatemala. In Mexico, the men try to board and ride the “Train of Death”. Two men are showing losing feet and legs (at least, the aftermath) from missed jumps. Another scene shows refugees riding on the tops of oil cars.

Men also have to evade gangs or “maras” armed with shotgun-like devices called chimbas. Men sometimes stay in a “Migrant safe house” which helps 9000 people a year.

Once the slip across the border, they are hunted down not only by the Border Patrol but also by community or vigilante groups. On the American side, men make all kinds of arguments about stopping potential terrorism (they outline some plausible scenarios) and other crimes. It is true that a few of the horrific crimes in the DC area in recent years appear to have been committed by illegal aliens.

Nevertheless, the film points out that “illegal emigration” from Central America is very important to the economies of these countries, from Guatemala on down. Workers send money home to families, and that represents over 25% of the economy of some of the countries. The film notes that the United States apparently executes a covert "Plan Sur", to encourage Mexico to deport its own "illegals" deeper into Central America, and it obviously notes that the divide between rich and poor south of the border, and lack of decent wages (a mill that makes mascera is shown closing at the beginning) drives the illegal emigration, downgrades moral sense, and therefore creates to grave potential security problems in the United States. On the other hand, faith-based groups and other NGO’s have sponsored water projects, schools and medical clinics in countries like Guatemala (Mission Impact) and Nicaragua (Nacascolo) (I am familiar with some detail of these by knowing people participating personally). But these don’t seem to make a significant dent in the poverty and economic stress that drives illegal emigration – or could they?

The director Torres offers a brief interview on the DVD, with his "Super Hero" animal hunter. He says we need to think of things more communally.

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