Destined for Deportation begins with the personal. Jeanette Vizguerra, a mother of three children who are United States citizens and is now facing deportation, explains that she came to America not for money, but for safety. Her husband drove a bus in Mexico and was hijacked at gunpoint three times -- and she witnessed the last incident personally. From there, the documentary describes the immigration laws that make it so difficult for people like Vizguerra to gain citizenship.
The documentary also chronicles the story of Gerardo Noriega, a 21-year-old Smoky Hill High School graduate who was brought to Colorado when he was nine. Every other member of his family has either gained U.S. citizenship or been allowed to make this country a permanent residence. But like Vizguerra, Noriega is in limbo while he continues to try to work through the legal process.
"The idea was that we would explain the human cost of the current immigration policies," says filmmaker Jen Friedberg, a law student at the University of Colorado who was a journalist for twelve years, mostly with the Fort-Worth Star Telegram. "Basically, you hear Jeanette and Gerardo tell their stories and it shows how these laws have impacted them directly, specifically looking at SB-90 and Secure Communities. It attempts, sometimes more successfully than not, to weave in those specific legal aspects with their story."
Destined for Deportation will screen tonight at 7 p.m. at the Mayan, 110 Broadway.The documentary, which is also available on iTunes, is being presented by Rights for All People (RAP), an immigrant activist group. RAP leaders believe laws like Senate Bill -90 and programs like Secure Communities act as a dragnet to identify undocumented people in the community and create fear in the immigrant population.
"The general message is that laws like SB-90 and programs like Secure Communities really harm individual families," says Nicole Melaku, administrator and development associate for RAP. "In this time of uncertainty and anti-immigrant sentiment, we really need to look at this issue from a human rights perspective and a perspective of dignity and just keeping families together."
Vizguerra, who owned a moving and cleaning business for many years, has been in and out of immigration court for nearly a year through several delays; in December, Vizguerra was told she had thirty days to self-deport, Melaku says. She immediately filed an appeal; that process could take up to two years to resolve.
"I was most interested in attending Jeanette's immigration deportation hearing," says Friedberg, who documented Vizguerra from last April through August. "I wasn't able to actually shoot during the hearing, but capturing the stops and starts of that process and showing just how frustrating that is -- I thought that was important for people to know. I believe that most people think that it's a matter of filling out some forms and it's done, and that's not the case. It's very convoluted and it's hard for anyone to become a citizen here. And then to defend yourself in a deportation hearing is also difficult, probably more difficult than most people realize."
Noriega received administrative closure for his case as part of a pilot program that was held in Denver and Baltimore over six weeks in December and January, during which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attorneys reviewed all open cases on the Denver immigration court's docket. Administrative closure essentially means Noriega has been deemed a low priority for the immigration courts, and his case will not be reviewed further at this time. But Noriega also received no indication of when his case would be picked back up -- so in the meantime he can't work, apply for college or do many other activities available to people his age. Since he is no longer a minor, his parents can't petition for residency on his behalf.
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Neither Vizguerra nor Noriega are criminal offenders; Melaku hopes they serve as the human face of the immigration issue. Vizguerra was pulled over for expired license-plate tags and Noriega for a burnt-out license-plate light. Their supporters believe Vizguerra and Noriega are both productive members of their community and hope the documentary will show how they are stuck in limbo thanks to an unfair and overly complex immigration system.
"The reason I started this documentary was to learn more about the immigration system, and I feel that I accomplished that," says Friedberg. "I was really struck by how complicated it was and how unclear that law was. In a lot of ways it's just fundamentally unfair. The law is applied erratically.
"Gerardo and Jeanette would have continued living here, going about their business if it wouldn't have been for the unfortunate event of Jeanette being pulled over because she had expired license tags and that Gerardo's tail light was burnt out," she continues. "I imagine there are thousands of people who are in their situation, contributing to society, but one small mistake like that will put them in the same situation. They could also be facing deportation."