Friday, May 12, 2006


Immigration on My Mind

With the illegal Mexican immigration issue dominating the news, self-appointed Minutemen patrolling up and down the border, and President Bush preparing to deliver a rare primetime televised speech on the issue, two films which captured the zeitgeist of the Sanctuary/Amnesty movements of the mid 1980s came to mind. The first is the seldom seen short documentary from 1986, directed by Wynn Hausser, called Sanctuary: A Question of Conscience. The film explores the modern day Sanctuary Movement (of the 1980s) in the southwest region of the United States. This movement -- modeled on the medieval law that a church could protect a fugitive from government authorities -- involved American citizens (in this case, a minister, a university professor and his wife, and a layworker convicted of a felony for her work in helping refugees) and was supported by a network of churches, synagogues and other organizations who helped transport political refugees from Central America to places of refuge in the U.S. Through interviews, the film is able to illuminate the motivations and beliefs of these activists, and examines the question of sanctuary as a means of social change. The second film -- the sprawling, yet personal film, El Norte (nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar) -- tells the compelling story of a brother and sister from Guatemala who escape a military massacre in their town and decide they must flee up north, to the United States. After an arduous trip through Mexico, the siblings make it to Los Angeles, where they attempt to start a new life for themselves despite the fact they are young, uneducated, and illegal immigrants. Both these films offer a useful, thoughtful, and historical perspective on the issue of immigration, and the reasons people flee to the U.S. to begin with. One might say the country itself was originally built on illegal immigrants who were sent (or fled) here to form colonies because they were outcasts (of one kind or another) in Europe.

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