You don’t have to be awaiting U.S. citizenship to know that immigration reform is a hot topic as of late. The subject has been in the spotlight recently as the world awaits announcements from President Barack Obama regarding the state of the reform initiative, and it has also begun taking over the big screen. In fact, at Seattle’s Social Justice Film Festival on Oct. 24, a new film was screened for the first time calling for quick action on reform: “The Vigil.”
About ‘The Vigil’
This documentary was created by director Jenny Alexander, who serves as an independent filmmaker and a producer at Northern Light Productions. “The Vigil” tells the story of two women, Gina and Rosa, who were mothers in the U.S. living without documentation in Arizona at a time when the state was going through some of the most controversial anti-immigration changes in history.
In 2010, Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law SB 1070, which requires police to ensure that a person has American citizenship when he or she is arrested or detained. Police were given the right to conduct such investigations if there was “reasonable suspicion” that the suspect was living illegally in the country. SB 1070 created a wave of similar regulations across the U.S., and activists and social reform organizations in every corner of the country have been challenging the law. The American Civil Liberties Union, for instance, has been one of the strongest voices against such strict anti-immigration regulations.
“Laws inspired by Arizona’s SB 1070 invite rampant racial profiling against Latinos, Asian-Americans and others presumed to be ‘foreign’ based on how they look or sound,” the ACLU said in a statement. “They also authorize police to demand papers proving citizenship or immigration status from anyone they stop and suspect of being in the country unlawfully.”
Thousands of children were separated from their families with this new law, and many have lived in fear of deportation every day. Gina and Rosa are no exception. As the documentary explained, Gina crossed the Mexican-U.S. border in 2012 along with 6.7 million other Mexicans who came to live in the country without the permission of the American government. But she was not greeted with welcome arms and is still waiting to be granted U.S. citizenship. Gina, as well as and Rosa, were at constant risk of being deported, separated from their children and removed from life as they knew it.
At the screening
After participants viewed the movie at the Social Justice Film Festival, they were treated to a panel discussion with Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Vargas shared his own personal story as an undocumented American, according to The Daily. Vargas lived in the U.S. for more than two decades without American citizenship, after his mother sent him to the country from the Philippines when he was a small boy.
“America is my home, it’s where I spent the bulk of my life,” Vargas said during the discussion. He went on to express that personal connections among U.S. citizens and undocumented immigrants play a huge role in the issue of immigration reform. “Once you started thinking that they’re someone’s kids, and someone’s mom, all the sudden it changes.”
In addition to Vargas’ panel, there were presentations by Pramila Jayapal, an immigration activist and Senate candidate for Washington, and immigration attorney Jorge Barón. The documentary’s main characters, Gina and Rosa, also attended the screening, which served to shed light on the struggle to obtain American citizenship and reinforced the importance of immigration reform.
“They’ve worked hard, just like us,” said community member Nancy Eastham. “There should be a way of getting documented.”