Films Highlight Immigration Issues in U.S.

April 4, 2008

From April 1-3, the Center cosponsored a series of films and discussions focused on issues surrounding immigration in the U.S. today. The events were held in the Zinner Forum of the Heller School.

The first night addressed the intersecting issues of gender, immigration, and work. The experience of Mexican women working as "crab-pickers" in Maryland on temporary unskilled work visas was described by Heller Ph.D. Ramona Olivera. The dilemma of immigrant women who are denied the right to work was also explored through the short film "Hearts Suspended" and the subsequent commentary of several panelists. HB-4 visa holders, the dependents of those brought into the U.S. as temporary skilled workers, find themselves in a frustrating situation: They are not permitted to work nor open up a bank account since they cannot have Social Security numbers. The majority of HB-4 visa holders are highly educated women from India. The filmmaker Meghna Damani, attorney/activist Shivali Shah, and Heller MA student Urjasi Rudra described the struggle of these women to find fulfillment under these restrictions.

The second night's program focused on the immigration raids that took place in New Bedford, Mass., in March 2007. More than 250 undocumented workers were arrested, many of them women with babies and small children. In the months that followed, many of these individuals were deported, while others continue to challenge their deportations in the legal system. The central question of the evening was: "Who pays the price of enforcing immigration laws?" Filmmaker/advocate Jenny Alexander screened her film, entitled "Detained," which follows several families affected by the raid and shows both its legal and emotional aftermath. Immigration attorney John Willshire Carrera, psychologist Amaro Laria, and a factory worker who experienced the raid firsthand each offered their perspectives on the way in which policies regarding undocumented workers were enforced in New Bedford.

The final evening of the series shifted the focus to refugees and how they are viewed by native populations in their countries of resettlement. Filmmaker Ziad Hamzeh screened his award-winning documentary "The Letter," which recounts the conflict that arose in Lewiston, Maine, after the settlement of more than a thousand Somali refugees in this small post-industrial city. Ph.D. student Allison Taylor reported how Somali refugees in Kenya seek to make a new life despite the rejection of local populations and the harassment of officials. Heller SID student Panther Alier, himself a refugee from Sudan who spent years in camps before resettling in Boston, described to the audience the loss of dignity and independence experienced by refugees and his struggle to redefine himself for years after losing both family and homeland.

Each evening's program was followed by a lively question and answer period. The audience came away with a clear picture of the hardships that contemporary immigration policies create for newcomers to this country, whether they have come for work or to escape conflict in their homeland, and the challenges newcomers face in creating stable, productive, and meaningful lives in the U.S.

In addition to the Center, campus sponsors for the films series were the Heller School, Legal Studies, Social Justice and Social Policy, Romance Studies, the Women's Studies Research Center, Sociology, Community Engaged Learning, and African and African American Studies.