In a recent film, this seasoned actor plays an immigration attorney. He is actually defending himself in real life.

A lawyer gives his client a harsh warning while staring across his desk. He says, “You have one month to find someone to cosign your visa.” “You have to leave the United States if you don’t.” Another dismal day at Khalil Immigration Law, where those who lose their cases disappear into thin air, and where not even a gold plaque on the wall of the waiting area makes any promises other than the tepid declaration, “We’ll do what we can!” That should sound ridiculous. As they follow protagonist Alejandro in his frantic attempt to stay in the United States and fulfill his aspirations, audiences of the new film “Problemista” will encounter a number of purposefully bizarre locations, including the law office.

Early on in the film, which features writer-director Julio Torres and opens in theaters across the country on Friday, Mr. Khalil is pressuring Alejandro, played by Torres, to find a solution quickly. Alejandro has met a woman; could she be his sponsor? With a shrug, Alejandro answers, “We’ll see.” Laith Nakli’s character Khalil is excited and rushes to scribble on his notepad. Has the attorney developed a novel and compelling legal technique or a concept that wins the case? Not at all. Khalil smiles and says, “We’ll see,” sweeping his palm through the air as he imagines the words on a brand-new waiting room plaque. “For us, that’s a much better motto.” It’s one of the numerous amusing scenes that break up the suspenseful film “Problemista,” which emphasizes the unpredictability of the US immigration system and the bizarre detours encountered by those attempting to negotiate it.

Against all the odds and the insane whims of his boss, Tilda Swinton’s character Elizabeth Asencio, an art critic whose default setting is to instigate fights and yell at everyone in her path, Alejandro perseveres. For Torres, it’s both a fictional and a personal tale. “I’ve had these emotions for a very long time. In a recent interview with CNN, he said, “It just makes sense that they poured out in a movie.” The former writer for “SNL” immigrated to the US as a college student from El Salvador. And he still recalls the fear he had when attempting to find employment and convert his student visa to a work permit following graduation. “My heart would race the moment I woke up,” he claims. Long before he played the role of the well-intentioned but inept immigration attorney for “Problemista,” Nakli claims he was all too familiar with that sense of dread. He recognizes his own journey in Alejandro’s experience off-screen.

Additionally, he is sharing a side of himself that not many people are aware of while assisting with the movie’s promotion. Nakli has only discussed it with his closest pals for years. However, he claims to experience it all the time. In a Zoom interview from his New York apartment, he tells CNN, “I call it the dark cloud that follows me everywhere.” Nakli, a Syrian national originally from Damascus, has resided in the United States for almost thirty years. And it has been over 20 years since his life was turned upside down and he found himself in deportation procedures following his 1998 arrest in New York on federal charges. He was a champion bodybuilder back then, having trained in the United States and going on to become the reigning “Mr. Syria.”

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