Film 'The Infiltrators' has lessons for Donald Trump on deportation

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Photo: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Department of Homeland Security)/Wikimedia Commons

U.S. President Donald Trump wants his wall, and he is willing to shut down the government again to get it. Commenting on congressional negotiations to find a compromise before temporary government funding runs out Feb. 15, he tweeted on Wednesday, "If the committee of Republicans and Democrats now meeting on Border Security is not discussing or contemplating a Wall or Physical Barrier, they are Wasting their time!" It has been reported lately that some of the sensational rhetoric that Trump invokes when demanding a border wall may actually come from the movies. Case in point is the 2018 blockbuster crime thriller Sicario: Day of the Soldado. Scenes in that film are strikingly similar to elements from Trump's border wall speeches, referencing Muslim prayer rugs found in the desert near the Mexican border, and stories of women having their mouths bound with duct tape.

Trump should definitely see a film that just premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival, The Infiltrators. The movie covers a topic dear to the president: deportation. This gripping film, a hybrid documentary/dramatic feature, is based on the true story of undocumented immigrants who get themselves arrested by federal authorities -- risking deportation themselves -- so they can infiltrate a notorious private immigrant detention centre and organize the detainees within its walls.

Directed by Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera, the film portrays a courageous, undercover direct action to block deportations. Viridiana Martinez and Marco Saavedra are the real people portrayed in the film. In 2012, they were young Dreamers -- undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. As organizers with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), they were pushing for passage of the DREAM Act to create a pathway to citizenship for the roughly 3.6 million people who entered the U.S. as children and have lived here since.

They called President Barack Obama the "deporter-in-chief," and had been pressuring him to enact meaningful immigration reform. Obama had announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, to offer some protections for this population, but, as Viridiana told the Democracy Now! news hour at Sundance, "The same way that I got it I can get it taken away." While NIYA organized sit-ins at the offices of Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, they saw their friends getting deported.

As Marco, played by Maynor Alvarado, narrates in the film, describing NIYA's plan:

"Our mission: Stop the deportations.

"Our strategy: Organize. Escalate. Shut something down.

"Our new plan: Get into the Broward detention center and get people out."

Viridiana is played by Vida star Chelsea Rendon. Back in 2012, Democracy Now! interviewed the real Viridiana while she was detained: "I'm at Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach, Florida. I have been here since July 20th. I came in intentionally, allowed myself to be detained," she said over the phone. "We want a full review of all of the cases here at Broward Transitional Center, and we want the immediate release of all low-priority cases here. … Now that I'm inside, I have found several stories of women who have been held for over a year, some for months only, but they don't belong here."

Marco and Viridiana were inside, organizing the detainees, documenting their stories and clandestinely delivering the information to NIYA activists on the outside, including Mohammad Abdollahi, a young, gay, undocumented Iranian immigrant. With the information in hand, Mohammad and others could contact family members and help them take action to block the deportations.

President Trump watches a lot of television and movies. At a recent Cabinet meeting, he had a large, poster-size picture of himself on the table in front of him, accompanied by text styled after the hit TV series Game of Thrones reading, "Sanctions are Coming." As has been widely noted, the phrase comes from "Winter is Coming," and refers to a fictional Game of Thrones family, one member of which, Jon Snow, actually leads a caravan of immigrants through a border wall -- an odd image for a president who will shut down our government to build such a wall.

The activists of NIYA are still fighting for their human rights, and aren't waiting for the Democrats in Congress. They have just delivered 40,000 signatures to the White House. "We DREAMers, both with DACA and without, ask that you negotiate directly with our leadership … year after year we are fed nothing but empty promises."

Trump should watch The Infiltrators, then invite this group of determined, courageous activists to the White House for serious negotiations.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,300 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan, of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times bestseller. This column originally appeared on Democracy Now.

Photo: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Department of Homeland Security)/Wikimedia Commons

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