Revolution #147, November 16, 2008



We received the following from a reader who is a law student:

This “Check It Out” for readers of Revolution is about Detained—a film exposing the on-the-ground realities of this country’s custody and immigration system. I attended the screening of Detained last month at Physicians for Human Rights in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Along with the film screening, put on by the Asylum Network at PHR, there followed a panel discussion featuring some of the individuals in the film as well as immigration advocates. After the event, I had an opportunity to correspond with the filmmaker, about why she wanted to make this video, how she made it and why she wants to get this out.

In Detained, filmmaker Jenny Alexander underscores a framework in which immigrants are exploited, humiliated, tortured and silenced. Unlike the so-called “criminal justice system” (where people are supposed to have the right to a lawyer), in the U.S. Immigration system, thousands of undocumented workers are not even afforded representation, are often forced to sign papers they can’t understand and are barred from bringing claims against government officials challenging their detention and confinement.

This documentary includes accounts by immigrant factory workers of what happened at the March 6, 2007 Bianco factory raid in New Bedford, Massachusetts by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. Many of the immigrant workers in this factory—which makes vests and backpacks for U.S. soldiers—were women with small children and the film shows the ramifications of detainment among families and the community. Alexander told me, “Few people actually see the on-the-ground realities of an immigration raid, and few actually find out about the treatment that detainees receive, and how the traumatic separation affects the families and children of the detainees. I thought it was very important to document this to be able to bring this side of the experience to the conversation about immigration and immigration raids.”

The concise, 27-minute film alternates between still shots in which a few of the 361 individuals who were detained, and their family members, recount with vivid detail being taken by ICE officials and placed in confinement, neither being allowed to contact their family members nor being told when they would be released. Alexander vividly illustrates this harsh reality with the experiences of a mother who was detained: the mother’s eight-month-old baby, who was still breast-feeding, had a high fever, was not eating and had to be rushed to the emergency room. Neither the father nor any of the volunteers could locate the mother. Alexander expressed that she documented this account among others “because it seemed unlikely that people would believe what was—happening unless they saw it.”

In between these still shot accounts and illustrations, Alexander also includes the tumultuous fear of deportation and despair that ensued at the local church the day following the raid. Alexander recalls, “I definitely remember in the church basement that the distress was palpable. People were traumatized and were at a complete loss for information—they didn’t know where family members were, where they were being taken, or how they might be able to help them.” Many women were separated from their young children, several held as far away as Texas and Louisiana and most of whom ended up being deported.

Prior to filming Detained, Alexander was working on a documentary about immigrant students and education access. Alexander told me, “The student went to volunteer at the church the day after the raid—so I had my camera with me. When I saw the scene unfolding in the church—the chaos, the family members searching for their relatives, and children whose parents had been detained, I knew that it had to be filmed. Initially, working with producer Michelle Fuentes, we put testimonies on YouTube and prepared DVDs for advocates to use—to get the word out about how the raid was affecting the community and for Senator Kennedy’s advocacy efforts.”

I strongly encourage readers to obtain copies of Detained at, watch it with your friends, organize screenings at Revolution Books stores in your areas, and engage in critical discourse about the role and nature of the immigration system within a larger global nation of exploitation. “I believe that politically driven rhetoric has obscured our country’s ability to have meaningful discourse around immigration,” Alexander said. “Due process is being pushed aside in the rush to deport people.”

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