This is a guest contribution from a group of film students at Appalachian State University, whose project on immigration policy I have recently supported. Go, Clare and team!
As a group of first-semester freshmen, it is understandable that most people underestimate us. It isn’t until we roll up to an interview with our equipment that people begin to realize that we mean business. This has been a recurring theme throughout our project. What does a rag-tag group of freshmen from Appalachian State University know about making a documentary? The truth is, not much. Some of the group has a bit of film and photography experience, but nothing too serious. As we have gained experience, we have learned to use each person’s skills and talents to our advantage.
Before showing up at El Paso, we hardly knew what the purpose of the film would be. We came into it with the intention of learning as we go and allowing the film to make itself. Of course, we didn’t go into it completely blind. We took a class on immigration and culture with our professor, Joe Bryan, and felt that we could make a difference. We saw the flaws in the immigration system, from the inhumane ICE detention centers to the xenophobic section of our country that cheers Donald Trump’s call to build a wall. It’s easy to say our country’s immigration laws are wrong and live our lives not doing anything about it. But, we decided something needed to change. There are stories of cruelty at the border and in detention centers that people need to hear. Not many people know what is happening at our southern border; therefore, we made it our mission to share.
We may not have known the exact direction of the film, but we had done extensive research previous to the trip. We found the people from El Paso most qualified to talk about the issues (a big thank you to our professor, who used his connections in the area to help us with this). We researched the people extensively in order to ask the perfect questions. In that respect, we were ready.
I have been amazed by the things we’ve learned from each interview and interaction. From Nellie Alvarado, a woman whose husband Oscar is detained at an ICE detention facility in El Paso, we learned of the abuses he has suffered inside. He was detained because he was shot in Mexico and Nellie took him across the border to seek medical help and flee the militarized Mexican police. After being released from the hospital, he was immediately taken to the detention center, where his wounds were neglected. He’s since been abused medically and physically.
From Carlos Spector, an attorney in El Paso, we discovered how the militarization of the Mexican police force has led to an increased flood of Mexicans into the United States. He shared horror stories of people being raped by the police, then fleeing to the border, where they were detained. These stories are where we have finally found the point of our documentary. We are sharing why people must flee Mexico to come to America, and what happens when they get here.
Our immigration system has its flaws, some obvious and others not so obvious. We met with border patrol agents, who we thought might be the bad guys, but who aren’t. They are mostly good guys just doing their jobs. The real problem lies with the policy makers. It is nearly impossible for people to enter the United States legally. Asylum is rarely offered, no matter how necessary it is for people fleeing their homes in Mexico and Central America. Violence is prevalent in these regions because of drug cartels and government corruption. The root of the problem is the internal corruption and violence in Mexico that needs to be solved. However, in the United States, there is something that can be done in the meantime. We must grant asylum to more people because the majority are fleeing for their lives. It is un-American to leave these people suffering at our gates.
Right now, I am sitting in Houston Intercontinental Airport reflecting on my experience in El Paso. First and foremost, I am so unbelievably proud of how well we carried ourselves. We went into each interview with poise and maturity. We visited the Annunciation House and even ended up volunteering while there. Our wild group of hippies from Boone, North Carolina came together to do something really great. I am so excited for the next step of this journey: Putting the film together!