While on a three-month tandem bike ride from Alaska to Cancun, Mexico, Diego Joven said migrants often lent him and his girlfriend a hand.
"They would give me clothes, food and money when I would be traveling and be without money or run into a problem," he said. "They don't do it because they expect to get paid. They just do it because it's like a tradition and it's their culture."
His experience led him to follow immigrants in Mexico and other parts of Latin America traveling north to cross the border into the United States and make his first documentary, A Dream Without a Visa.
"It's just documenting the human side and all the struggles that they go through, why they do it and the psychological, mental and physical journey they endure," he said.
The film focuses on migrants, but Joven also interviewed Border Patrol agents, immigration detention facility correction officers, Minute Men at their training facility in East County and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona.
Through the course of interviewing migrants on their way to the border and elsewhere, Joven said migrants he met weren't criminals or looking for a handout.
"Those gangsters–they don't work at farms. They're another story," he said.
"If you go to downtown Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, they [migrants] don't have signs that say 'Will work for food' or 'Why lie, I need a beer.' They may be selling flowers oranges or everything but they won't be begging," he said.
"I've heard from people saying they're terrorists, cockroaches, they bring diseases, they abuse the system, they don't pay taxes, they take our jobs."
Migrants are necessary for the nation's agriculture and economy, Joven said. People he spoke with just want to come work, not remain residents.
"After going through the place that they pick lemons and tomatoes and stuff, they say: 'We see Americans, and they don't last more than a week. Their backs are not made for this,'" he said.
Though Joven has his opinions on immigration, he said the film will only share the journey, not prescribe a particular philosophy for how America should reform its immigration policies.
"I actually want to leave it open to the people who write the laws and vote to think what's best because Americans are pretty smart, and they can find the best solutions, probably things I've never imagined," he said.
The one thing Joven suggests lawmakers do is listen to migrants as immigration reform is debated.
"Actually talk to the people, see what they're capable of, not look for the bad stuff but for the good stuff," he said. "These people pay a lot of money to bad people to get them into the U.S. Some smugglers are good, some are bad, but they all charge a lot of money, and I'm sure in the U.S. there could be a system that says "OK, you want to come work and make money and do what you're good at.'"
Portions of the film were shot under bridges that cross the Tijuana River and other areas along the border of San Diego. The film also follows the Border Angels, a San Diego-based group that places water in the desert so migrants do not die of dehydration.
As in other places, migrants he met near Tijuana came in search of jobs.
"Most of them got deported because they were driving with a busted tail light or got stopped by a cop who asked 'Let me see your papers.' So they were victims," he said. "Some of them left their families eating at the table when they got arrested and their families were afraid of going to the police station or other places."
Joven plans to enter the film, once completed, in the San Diego Latino Film Festival and other festivals. But to finish the documentary, Joven is asking anyone who will listen for donations.
Donors can have their name listed in the movie credits, receive copies of the documentary or other perks, he said.
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