Tuesday, November 11, 2014
My wife and I were walking off a heavy dinner in downtown Lake Worth, FL on a recent Saturday evening when the above poster caught her eye. She has worked for an immigration attorney for several years and may well know as much about the film's subject as that of the filmmakers. She has very strong opinions, informed by her unique position, her role in the processes of those who seek to gain a green card, a work permit, to become legal residents, etc.
One of DEPORTED's directors was standing in front of the Stonzek Theater that night, encouraging folks to see her film. Hors d'ouevres and rum punch (that was mostly rum) were served beforehand. Sponsored by the Boca Black project, the film was on a mini tour of South Florida, having played in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale days earlier. Co-director Rachele Magiere also fielded questions from the audience of forty or so at our showing afterwards. Most seemed to reflect a real lack of understanding of immigration laws, which changed drastically in 1996 with the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act. It states:
"Immigrants unlawfully present in the United States for 180 days but less than 365 days must remain outside the United States for three years unless they obtain a pardon. If they are in the United States for 365 days or more, they must stay outside the United States for ten years unless they obtain a waiver. If they return to the United States without the pardon, they may not apply for a waiver for a period of ten years."
Previously, it would require more serious criminal offenses that would guarantee five or more years behind bars for someone to be deported. Under the 1996 Act, even minor offenses were fair game. And then came 9/11/2001.
Magiere and Chantal Ragnault interview several men in Haiti who were deported from the U.S. after many years on American soil. They grew up in this culture. All had left the economically depressed nation when they were quite young and now found themselves back in a territory as alien as anything could possibly be. It's a dangerous, dirt poor existence, a "hell", as one man, back in Haiti for 20 years but still not adjusted, describes it. We see the conditions under which he and the others live, total squalor.
Each subject had committed an offense in the States, served jail time, and were then sent "home." Richard, our 20 year subject, also describes Haiti as a continuation of jail. He and the others, whose crimes included dealing drugs and burglary, angrily denounce the U.S. most of the time. Their families back in the States are shown reacting to the videotaped interviews: crying, shaking their heads, though some feel the bed was made......
DEPORTED is an engrossing hour that effectively documents each man's plight. One could not exactly call the film objective yet it is not exactly a bleeding heart tract. Points of view from the deported and their families back home (many of whom live in ghettos themselves, though far better than that of the deported) are given equal time. It is a raw, straightforward, completely unslick doc.
The film does not answer several questions, many of which nagged my wife: Were the subjects' parents, who brought them to the U.S., illegals or not? And what of those parents' roles in shaping their children's attitudes? During the Q & A, one audience member asked why no women were featured. Magiere stated that they did follow one, but her dialogue and overall situation "did not fit in with the rest of the film". I'd like to hear her story. Maybe a future DVD deleted feature?
To me, DEPORTED plays like a deterrent to would-be criminals, a warning as to what fate lies ahead for the undocumented who screw up. Yet, it's tough to tell if that was what merely what was intended. Magiere's accent was also tough to decifer as she took questions after the movie, and her attitude did not point clearly toward either a soft or hardline take on immigration reform. It was more of a sad resignation. Her advocacy remains, but at the end of the day, did these men earn their fates? Can the take home message of DEPORTED be as simple as "crime doesn't pay"??
The topic of immigration is a guaranteed inflammatory among dinner guests. My wife is a compassionate person but she has seen many who've tried to "milk the system." I think on my grandmother, who turned 101 in October, and how she had no choice but to learn English when she arrived in NYC from Italy in the early 1920s. She "did the right thing", even when circumstances were desperate. How does that relate to the Mexican who found his or herself in Texas after a "coyote" (funded by the illegal's family back home) trekked them over the border? Does everyone have the same opportunity? As I said: complicated.
P.S. In an interesting bit of coincidence, former Haitian leader Jean-Claude Duvalier, aka "Baby Doc", passed away on the day we saw DEPORTED. Duvalier was in exile in France from the mid 1980s until 2011 after years of iron fist rule.