Q&A with Francisco Alarcon, director of new documentary: The Deportation of Innocence

Belen Chacon

 

Francisco Alarcon was born in Mexico City in 1979. He arrived to the U.S. at an early age when his parents left Mexico for the U.S. to carry out their graduate studies. He grew up in the bay area where he attended high school. Later he studied Film Directing and Writing at the University of California Los Angeles Extension.

He has worked with immigrants throughout his life and has seen the effects of deportation first hand. His film, The Deportation Of Innocence explores the lives of four families affected by deportation. In the documentary he shows the difficult situations children face when an undocumented parent is deported. 

During 2010 – 2012 more than 200,000 U.S. citizen children lost a parent to deportation and an estimated 5.5 million children live with at least one undocumented parent. The Deportation Of Innocence aims to answer the question so few ask: What happens to children after their parents are deported?

What did make you want to work on this documentary?

I grew up in California, and I came back to Mexico in the year 2000. In that period there were a lot of deportations, which was around 2010 to 2012. That was the height of deportations, and a lot of children were coming back to Mexico and they were having a really difficult time integrating into the Mexican school system. My mom showed me this article that talked about that, and I thought well, this is definitely something that’s worth exploring and showing in a documentary because you hear a lot of stories about people getting deported, but a lot of times they don’t take the time to show the stories visually. I understand because it’s difficult to tell those stories especially when it comes to children, it’s a very delicate matter. It can’t be taken lightly. Basically just showing these stories, that’s what really drove me to explore it.

You give a number of scenarios on your website on what can happen to a child when a parent is deported, can you elaborate on each of those cases and what do you hope to show with these particular cases in your documentary?

Like you mentioned, each story is different. Deportation affects families in different ways. We are trying to show a wide range of cases. One of the most common is when one of the parents gets deported and then the other parent has to work without any help. So it has a lot of strain on the family financially, and specifically on the children emotionally.

The other case is when both of the parents get deported and the child enters foster care. This is one of the most difficult cases because it can take six months to two years for the parents to get their children back in the country to where they’re deported. There are a lot of requirements they have to follow to get their children back, that’s why it takes so long.

For example, they need to have a stable job. They need to have sufficient income to take care of the child. They have to take parenting classes sometimes, they have to take drug tests…There’s just a plethora of requirements.

If you take into account that even getting a government issued I.D. where the parents first are deported is a difficult task, then you can imagine how hard it is to follow all these other requirements.

In the most extreme cases, if the parents don’t follow these steps and the process takes more than a year, the child can be given up for adoption. As you know the foster care system in the U.S. is not perfect, it really makes it difficult for the child to get out of that system and be successful going forward.

One of the cases in particular is very interesting because the dad got deported and he had custody of the children, so the kids entered foster care. He did get them back eventually, but they had to go away in Acapulco, which is one of the most dangerous places in all of Mexico because of the drug violence. We really have to ask ourselves if the U.S. government is really taking care of its citizens when they’re basically just throwing them into this very unfavorable situation.

What do you hope to show with these cases?

I think we want to portray this sort of double standard, you know? Like, leave these workers living for decades in the country and then when it doesn’t need them just dispose of them. We really need to show the American people what they’re doing because I really think there’s a lot of ignorance about what really happens to children.

A lot of people get deported, but I think it doesn’t really sink in, the real affect that it has not only for both countries – Mexico and the United States – and I think Trump is a perfect example. He’s saying, deport 11 million people, but that’s impossible in so many aspects. For example, to start with, there are 9 million people in the U.S. that live with mixed status families. What are you going to do? Deport let’s say the dad who’s not a citizen and then you’re not going to deport the mom who is a citizen? It’s just going to break up families. It’s just a big mess…

We want to show the real effect that this has not only on the people being deported, but on the U.S. itself. People need to know what they’re doing when they vote for people who are in favor of mass deportations.

Trump has also suggested that the children should be deported with the parents and not be given legal status. What do you think about that idea, and what should our country be doing to prevent this type of family separation?

I think the very first thing we need to do is recognize that these children are U.S. citizens, because Trump wants to say that they’re not. He’s saying that a lot of people go to the U.S. and that they use fraud, and you know that horrible term, anchor babies.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that if an undocumented person has been in the U.S. for a decade, then you’re a part of that society. There are many studies that prove that they do pay taxes and they do contribute to the economy. I think that’s a big contradiction because a lot of people call undocumented immigrants illegal immigrants, but we don’t call the companies that hire them illegal companies. I don’t see a lot of republicans criticizing the companies that hire undocumented immigrants. They just go after the weakest link.

And then there’s the fact that people benefit from undocumented labor, but at the same time they want to kick them out. The U.S. needs undocumented labor and yet it doesn’t want to give to those people who have been making a contribution, and they’re right, you can’t have it both ways.

I actually think that Trump just uses this fear. A lot of times I’m not sure if immigration is real. The problem I think a lot of people who are in favor of Trump are afraid the country is changing and they just want to target something, and immigrants are the perfect targets. So they use that and unfortunately it is working. It’s going to be interesting what’s going to happen going forward. Hopefully people will actually see that he has no real ideas and that he’s just exploiting this issue for political reasons that are not based in reality.

The documentary also features testimonies from lawyers, social workers, academics and priests. How do they all fit into the narrative of the documentary and what is their experience?

I actually volunteer at these migrant shelters in Tijuana. I do translation work, so we have a long-standing relationship with immigrants. Their experiences are probably one of the most important in the documentary because they’re in the trenches so to speak. They give a lot of validity to the documentary because they know the legal problems you have to navigate. They’ve seen how children and their parents have a difficult time coping with this problem, and they’re very passionate about their work. They can tell you what deportation means not only to the parent, but to the children, to society and to the city of Tijuana, because this is the city where most people are deported, and the way it’s changing the entire city.

Now, the Mexican government is scrambling to figure out what it’s going to do with all these people that are coming back forcefully.

They do have a deep insight as to what happens. There’s a direct contrast between what they’re experiencing and what the politicians say. Going back to Trump, he’s saying that all these people are crossing the border and that there’s a massive attack almost, a massive invasion. If you talk to the lawyers and all these people that are working with migrants you can actually tell the legality of it all, which is that these enforcement actions are having an effect on people. A lot of people are just unwilling to make the trip now because it is really difficult and if you’ve crossed before, you can actually go to jail.

So these perspectives, for the reality that you don’t really see, away from all of the political discourse of people talking about immigration and talking about an invasion and talking about how there’s this big problem which immigrants are causing, which is not necessarily the truth when you take it to the ground level where things actually happen.

How do you think people will react to a documentary like this? As you said, we don’t really get to see this topic painted in this light. We don’t get to see how children are affected by deportations, because people tend to stay away from that side of things.

I saw a video on YouTube where a child was being interviewed. Her dad had just been deported and this guy just put the camera on her and started asking her questions that were really painful. This child just started crying. I saw that and I thought it was very sad, and I thought, well I don’t want to make a documentary like that. I don’t want to ask these children about deportations and have them cry because it’s a really delicate matter, and obviously it is very difficult for children to talk about.

So what I mostly wanted to do is show the children playing and being happy and joyful and sort of the parents talking about the difficulties, so not to put children in this spotlight necessarily. Except for one case where there was this little girl who just kept saying, ‘I want to talk about my dad.’ In other cases we show them playing and being happy.

And the reason I wanted to do this, is that I hope that other people who watch the documentary will think about their own children… I want them to think, oh well that could be my kid, and hopefully that will not necessarily change their minds, although hopefully that will happen eventually, at least make them think about what this can do to children and have a little more compassion about this topic. That would be the end result that I would hope for when people finish watching this film.

Anything you’d like to add?

We’re going to go on tour. We’re going to tour universities and just show the documentary. We’re going to go all over the U.S. showing the film and talk about this topic. Hopefully people will come out to see where we go and support the film. If they have any questions or want us to show it at their university/college/community center we are always glad and open to those ideas. Like we always say, these projects are community based and they’re only possible because of the community behind them.

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