A young girl cries out for her father, the wails choking in her throat, causing her to gasp for air.
Six-year-old Adayanci Pérez, was just one of more than 2,500 children separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border as part of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which went into effect in late 2017 until June 2018.
“The Legacy of the ‘Zero Tolerance’ Policy,” is a short, 10-minute documentary that follows the seldom-seen aftermath of the policy and its effects on young Adayanci. The film, along with four other works will be screened for free at the Parkway United Church of Christ in Winston-Salem on Thursday as a nationwide effort to bring awareness to immigrant stories through film. A discussion will take place after the screening.
“I think that there’s so much that we’re inundated with coming from mainstream media that talks about numbers of immigrants coming in,” says Juan Miranda, an organizer with Siembra NC, a local immigrant-rights organization and a co-host of the screening. “We have politicians making remarks about the dangers of immigration, and sharing these stories really bring out the human side of migration. They speak personally about the stories of the families and their impacts. They humanize what’s become a political topic.”
The project, which is titled Stories Beyond Borders, is spearheaded by Wilmington-based organization Working Films, which partners with filmmakers, nonprofits and grassroots organizations to tell human- and social justice-oriented stories. The five films span different lengths and each takes a distinct look at a different aspect of immigration and immigrant life.
“Santuario,” the longest at 24 minutes long, follows the story of Juana Luz Tobar Ortega, a Guatemalan refugee who took sanctuary at Greensboro’s St. Barnabas Episcopal Church to avoid deportation in 2017. The quiet film shows Ortega living in a small room at the church, spending her days crocheting, meeting with family members who visit her and congregating with members of the church. The film takes a look not only at Ortega’s situation but highlights other undocumented immigrants who have taken sanctuary, such as Minerva Cisneros Garcia, a Mexican woman who was housed at Greensboro’s Congregational United Church of Christ until May of this year. The film leaves viewers with a sense of uncertainty, paralleling the stress of those who lead lives filled with fear from the impending threat of deportation.
In the most affecting film in the series, “The Legacy of the ‘Zero Tolerance’ Policy,” viewers get an intimate look at the psychological effects that separation has on the young children impacted by the policy. The film, which includes interviews with Adayanci’s parents, classmates, teachers and a psychologist, focuses on a shy and reserved young girl whose parents say has been potentially irreparably changed by her experience.
According to the film, Adayanci was separated from her parents for three and a half months after she and her father crossed the border into the United States after leaving Guatemala in search of a better life. Her father, Hugo Vicente, was deported a few weeks after entering the country but Adayanci was kept at an unnamed family member’s home in Michigan. Clips from phone calls reveal Adayanci’s pain during the separation.
“She was a very active girl,” says Claudia Rodriguez, one of Adayanci’s schoolteachers in the film. “She is not the girl I stopped seeing five months ago.”
Initially, the family didn’t even know that Adayanci was suffering from PTSD because the clinical report she brought home was written in English. The family lives in a rural village without access to the proper mental healthcare that the young girl needs to recover from her trauma.
Shots of Adayanci surrounded by her classmates as she crouches in a corner of a room, tears streaming down her face, flash across the screen towards the end of the film. Before the piece closes, a single sentence appears before viewers.
“More than 400 children separated from their parents by the US government have not been reunited with their families.”
“Not a Citizen,” the second film in the series, focuses on the story of Abdi Ali, a 28-year-old Somalian refugee from Westbrook, Maine, who was detained by immigrations and customs enforcement in a Portland courthouse while meeting with his attorney about an OUI charge.
Images of Abdi are paired with beautifully animated line drawings that capture Abdi and his fiance’s feelings for each other as they communicate through phone calls from the jail where Abdi is being held.
“I hope that these stories inspire action,” Miranda says. “It has to go beyond feeling sadness, or anger or pity for people. It’s about people who are very vulnerable. Hopefully people feel inspired to take on that duty to fight along their sides.”
Not all of the films have such bleak messages.
The fourth film in the series, “The Dream Riders,” follows a group of Asian-American immigrants who have decided to embark on a 1,708-mile bike ride from Seattle to San Diego, which they’ve called the Journey 2 Justice, as a way to spread awareness for immigrants. The final film, “UndocuJoy!,” spans only a few minutes but emphasizes the idea that undocumented people are some of the most resilient, powerful, inspiring individuals in the country by showing scenes of individuals persevering in their daily lives as they work, walk their dogs, dance or simply laugh.
“One of the goals is that we wanted to leave people with a feeling of empowerment,” says Andy Myers, the senior campaign coordinator for Working Films. “Like yes, it is bad, but here is what people are doing. The films are just one part of the event. After the films are over, there is discussion so people can find out what to do next.”