The film Sin Visa, produced by San Jose-based Zarco Films begins with a group of undocumented immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, led by a “coyote,” or human trafficker. Their journey is arduous and dangerous. They evade the Minutemen -- self-appointed immigration authorities -- patrolling the area. The group treks through the desert, passing a row of crosses marking the graves of unknown people who have died making the same journey. Once inside the U.S., they are taken to a safe house that is anything but safe, and Marco’s story unfolds.
Marco, played by Edgar-Arturo Camacho-González, makes it north to San Jose, where he works in restaurants and sends money home. He attends a fictitious community college with the help of a sympathetic college counselor, gay and Arab, who becomes his friend. Sin Visa lets the viewer experience the day-to-day life of someone living without documents. This means not getting paid proper wages by an employer, renting a room in a house with no privacy and feeling both anxious and vulnerable when questioned by police at a traffic stop.
Through the college counselor, played by Luis Valencia, Sin Visa connects the U.S.-Mexico border to another separation barrier -- the one between Palestine and Israel. The film weaves together layers of human rights issues by centering the narrative on a gay Arab immigrant living in post-9/11 America who befriends and helps a young, undocumented Latino man.
This story is close to home for Camacho-González. “My family has an open immigration case, and there has been deportation in my family,” he says. Camacho-González was born in San Jose, where most of Sin Visa was filmed, but he didn't have to look far for inspiration. Camacho-González crossed the border illegally himself as a child, years ago. “The irony is that even though I have documents, having been born in the United States, because I was with my family and they did not, I did the crossing along with them,” he says.
Camacho-González has a sense of what it’s like to live with a big secret. “I think I parallel that with Marco, because I am an openly gay man and having to come out of the closet also has repercussions like an undocumented person has,” although in a different way, he says.
Even though the film’s subject matter is serious, Sin Visa includes some bizarrely funny moments. A girl Marco makes out with in his car (Amanda Romero) realizes he is undocumented and reacts as if she's kissed a leper. A woman gathering signatures to support the Dream Act, played by Tracy Broadway, tells Marco he cannot sign -- he's not a citizen.
Screenwriter and producer Bassam Kassab -- who plays a supporting role as the college counselor’s partner in Sin Visa -- says immigration politics aside, he wants people to feel empathy with Marco’s character. “When people start identifying or feeling empathy for [undocumented] immigrants, their vote or their views on immigration may change a little bit,” he says.
It’s personal for him, too. While Kassab is a legal immigrant from Lebanon, Sin Visa’s associate producer, Magdalena Ortega, recently returned to Mexico voluntarily after fighting deportation for years. Kassab says Ortega is working to promote Sin Visa in Mexico.
In Sin Visa, Marco also ends up returning to Mexico voluntarily, a twist in the plot even Camacho-González didn't know of until the film's final edit. In a postscript scrolling across the screen at the film's close, the audience learns Marco tries to cross the desert heading north once more, looking for work. But, as Camacho-González put it in a Q&A on opening night, "I'm not in the sequel."
See the film on May 5, 6-8pm at Contra Costa College, San Pablo, with Camacho-González in attendance for a panel discussion. For more information on this and future screening dates, visit zarcofilms.com.
Editor's note: Maher Sabry, the film’s editor, is the author's Arabic teacher.