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Savannah Film Festival: Indivisible shows human stories at heart of immigration debate

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THE documentary Indivisible explores the stories of three "Dreamers," young undocumented immigrants who seek a path to citizenship and education.

Not completely part of either the U.S. nor of their home countries which in many cases they barely remember, they have been let down time and again by the failure of various efforts at immigration reform.

We spoke to director/producer Hilary Linder, who will attend the weekend screening.

Is it just an amazing coincidence that your documentary comes in this particular election season, with Trump’s wall, etc.?

This doesn’t even mention Trump! We finished shooting before Trump was the nominee. We did all the shooting and editing, and it all happened to be done in time for this election.

It’s a complex issue, with lots of different notions and opinions. But at the heart of it are 11 million people. We hope you’ll spend 78 minutes learning about three of them.

The film doesn’t throw politics in your face. People are fed up with divisive politicized debate over immigration reform, but we aren’t hearing the human stories at the heart of the debate. We wanted to make a film about something everyone could relate to, and that’s families.

All the subjects of your documentary are specifically from the Latino diaspora, as opposed to Asian, African, or other immigrants.

Yes, all three main subjects are Latino, one each from Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico.

The immigration debate is of course much broader than that. I was hoping I could show a bit more diversity, but the scenes you see about immigration do touch every nation in the world really.

Tell us about the people in the film.

The young people in the film were all brought to the U.S. as young children by their parents, without their own authorization. They’ve all grown up in America undocumented.

We enter their lives at the same point, where the yearning to see their mothers again is extremely strong. For better or worse you always have the desire to see your family.

We started making this film when Congress was first introducing a major immigration reform bill. It would have been a potential chance for these people to reunite with their parents.

Everyone was very optimistic the bill would pass, but a few months into filming we realized it wouldn’t go anywhere.

So in the film we see all three apply for travel waivers so they can leave and legally return. It’s an amazing journey they all go on, but essentially the film ends where it begins, with no permanent solutions. They are still in limbo.

There are a lot of people who aren’t necessarily bigots who still have a hard time understanding why non-citizens should have access to the very competitive entry system for U.S. universities and colleges.

Education is a huge theme of the documentary. Most parents who came to the U.S. are seeking the opportunity of a world-class education in America for their children. Each of the three subjects of our documentary knew from a young age they wanted to go to college.

But it’s very difficult to afford college if you’re undocumented. You’re basically just like an international student – you’re judged against everyone else, and if accepted you’re not able to access any federal financial aid or get student loans from banks. In most states you can’t access state aid either.

So there’s this misconception they’re tapping into all this aid, like they’re on welfare or something. It’s just not true.

One young lady in the film started saving every penny she made from age 13 on. She could afford to pay for one full year at UMass Boston. She’s going to get that degree, but it will literally have taken her a decade.

Ironically, as many Americans seem to be sort of giving up on “The American Dream,” these immigrants seem to hold out hope for it.

Yes, especially those “Dreamers,” the undocumented youth stuck in limbo. It’s sort of oddly refreshing to hear from them.

Many of them don’t even find out they are undocumented until they are teenagers. Many can’t even remember anything about the country they came from.

They’re American in every sense of the word except that piece of paper. Why condemn these young people to a life without citizenship and without education?

They love America, they love what it stands for, they know the countries they came from don’t have jobs for them.

Do you talk about the difference between economic migration and people fleeing unstable situations?

That’s where we see the children coming from Central America. That’s a big source of migration today.

With Evelyn Rivera, one of our subjects, her family left Medellin, Colombia, which at the time was a very violent town during the drug crisis there. She shares a story about her parents walking her and her little sister to school, when a car bomb went off nearby. That prompted their decision to leave. They said “How can we raise these precious girls in this kind of country?”

In the meantime we have welcomed them into our economy! We depend on those skilled workers throughout the U.S.

From what you’ve learned making the film, is Latino interest in this election overhyped by the media?

No! They are so tuned in. Their future depends on this. Immigrants, undocumented and otherwise, are all very closely dialed into this election.

You’ve got one candidate proposing deporting 11 million people. And another on saying she will bring comprehensive immigration reform in her first 100 days, or will at least try to.

Say what you will about George W. Bush, but he always saw Latinos as a natural Republican constituency and wanted that party to appeal more to Latinos. Republicans have obviously gone in a different direction since then.

George W. Bush really fought hard for comprehensive immigration reform. And remember the last major immigration reform was actually under Reagan. He provided a pathway to citizenship for millions of people.

Immigration is actually not something that traditionally Republicans have been against. It’s sad how it’s been politicized. cs

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