On this blog, I try to share both my thoughts and those of others standing for welcome at LIRS and nationwide. Today, as we commemorate the upcoming 5 year anniversary of the Postville raid, I’d like to introduce an interview by Luke Telander, Program Associate for Outreach at LIRS, with Luis Argueta, documentary filmmaker and director of abUSed: The Postville Raid.
On May 12, 2007, the community of Postville, Iowa, with a population of less than 2,500, was wrenched apart as federal immigration officers carried out the largest immigration raid in U.S. history to that date. The Postville raid will forever be remembered as a testament to the destructive powers of American immigration enforcement. In one day, families were shattered, livelihoods were snatched away, and human dignity was trampled on, and the community is still healing from the wounds of the traumatic event five years later. However, the Postville raid also acted as a transformative experience for many, both those directly impacted by the raid and those in the greater community. The raid was devastating psychologically, fiscally, and physically to the town and its residents, but it also opened the eyes of many and allowed the community to come together and support those in need.
Luis Argueta, the director of abUSed: The Postville Raid, follows this transformational experience in his new film, The U-Turn. The film highlights the U visa process, an important protection for immigrant women who have undergone traumatic abuse. It follows the road to empowerment and renewal that U visas offered immigrant women and their families in Postville, and the parallel journey of the community members who supported them during this process.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Luis Argueta through an email interview. Here are his thoughts:
Luke Telander (LT): What motivates you to take on projects like abUSed and The U-turn?
Luis Argueta (LA): The short answer is that I remembered that the main reason I had come to this country was to speak up when confronted with an injustice.
The long answer is a little more complicated. I was first drawn to the story of the Postville raid from reading an article about an essay written by a federal interpreter, Erik Camayd-Freixas, written by Julia Preston, The New York Times’ immigration correspondent. My initial reaction was one of incredulity at the way in which the essay described how the arrested workers had been treated during their arraignment and sentencing process. There was a personal connection with the arrested workers, the majority of whom came from Guatemala, my country of birth. As a naturalized citizen I felt I could not stand silent in the face of what seemed like the trampling of the constitution and a violation of human, civil and labor rights of immigrants. I needed to go and see for myself what had truly happened and thus I decided to take a 4-day trip to Iowa.
The initial plan was to conduct a few interviews and post them on-line as part of a series I had started titled “Voices of Silence” which are short portraits of immigrants. I never thought that this would transform my life and become my passion. Those initial four days became two weeks and I returned 28 more times to Iowa (and took 17 trips to Guatemala) during the following 29 months in order to tell the story of that raid. The stories I heard from the immigrants and from those who came to their support, made me realize the magnitude and importance of the story. It was a paradigmatic story that represented the worst and the best of which we, as Americans, are capable. That is how abUSed: The Postville Raid was born.
LT: Can you briefly describe The U-Turn?
LA: The U-Turn, is a documentary that illustrates the transformational journey of a group of immigrant families and of the individuals and communities who supported them after the Postville raid. The film showcases the U visa, an immigration relief in much need of dissemination among, and understanding by, immigrants, immigration rights-advocates and law-enforcement.
During the production of abUSed: The Postville Raid I learned about the lives of immigrant workers who had been victims of crimes and who lost their fear of speaking up. They collaborated with law enforcement in investigating those crimes, and, if they had suffered significant physical or psychological damage, received a U visa, which authorizes them to work and live in this country, lets them apply for permanent residence in 4 years, and, eventually, for citizenship. I also learned about the transformations that had taken place among the people who had supported and walked along the immigrants, and decided to show how it is that-in the direct, personal contact with others we discover our own humanity.
LT: How have you seen U visas make a difference in the lives of immigrant women?
LA: The most significant difference I have witnessed in the lives of immigrant women is that they feel empowered. By knowing their rights as workers and as immigrants, by seeing how their testimonies helped them to lose their fear (of deportation, of being “found out”), they have gained a new perspective in their lives and their struggles to make a better life for their families. They also have a renewed faith in justice.
LT: With the debate over comprehensive immigration reform raging in Congress, have you noticed any changes in public perception of your work?
LA: The main feedback about my work comes from the presentations at universities, faith-based communities, labor and immigration conferences. The main change in the perception I have noticed is that people seem to know about the issues more and are the film resonates with them in a more local and personal way.
LT: Last year the United States spent $18 billion on immigration enforcement, yet the “enforcement first” mantra is still prevalent in today’s debate. What message do we need to send to counter this?
LA: Ever since 9/11 we have become accustomed to a diet of fear. Fear of the other, especially. Enforcement is a tool greatly based on fear. We do not need fear. We need understanding and compassion; understanding to see the roots of immigration, compassion to welcome those who come here after leaving their homes because there is no choice. We are a country whose strength comes from its convictions and its principles, not from its destructive capabilities. People have come and continue to come to this country because the promise of opportunity, the promise of equality before the law. If we want to see what enforcement looks like, let’s take a look at the Postville raid.
LT: What role do you think the arts can play in the immigration?
LA: The arts can help in the immigration reform movement by revealing the human connections between all peoples, by touching our heart and open a little window to the truth. And hopefully, the truth will begin to change our minds and make us free.
LT: After the release of The U-Turn, what do you want to explore next?
LA: Family reunification and reconciliation.
Family reunification, through a documentary about a group of 17 U.S. citizen children (of unauthorized immigrant parents) who travel to the birth-country of their ancestors, to meet their grandparents for the first time.
Reconciliation, through a fictional film about a woman raised in the northern hemisphere who travels to the developing world where she discovers her past as a trafficked-infant, and faces the one responsible
If you live in Iowa and wish to attend the Postville 5-year anniversary event on May 10 in Cedar Rapids, click here for more information. There will also be screenings of abUSed: The Postville Raid across the country, including on local Iowa public television and nationwide on the World Channel, and you can also purchase the film and discussion guide here.