“If you allow one group of people to be marginalized, it eventually is going to come back and affect everybody.” – Valeria Fernández
Update, July 17: After four years, Figueroa’s family was reunited when a judge granted a motion to close her parents’ case, putting an end to their deportation battle.
Documentary film Two Americans follows the stories of two Americans at the center of Arizona's immigration battle: Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Katherine Figueroa, a young girl whose parents were arrested in 2009 in one of Arpaio’s immigration raids. Separated from her parents at age nine, Figueroa’s fate was decided on July 17, when her parents’ case was addressed in court.
Directors Daniel DeVivo and Valeria Fernández spoke with AS/COA’s Andreina Seijas after the film’s New York screening on July 10 and shared their experiences while making the film. “The documentary humanizes a family of immigrants and exposes some of the pitfalls in our current immigration system and why we need reform,” said DeVivo.
View the trailer of Two Americans below.
AS/COA: While you were making the film, you followed Arpaio and had the opportunity to learn more about his views on immigration. What was one of the most shocking policies you witnessed in Arizona?
Valeria Fernández: I think one of the most interesting things in the film is that you see that there is abuse towards the immigrant community—civil rights violations, and human rights violations—but that spans beyond the immigrant community. If you allow one group of people to be marginalized, it eventually is going to come back and affect everybody, because you’re setting the bar really low and allowing it to affect all of society.
Since we were originally focused on the immigrant community, one of the most remarkable things that we saw unfolding when we were working on the movie was what was going on with the sweeps and the raids, the people, and the families that were being separated. Pretty soon we realized that the sheriff’s office was creating this anti-corruption unit to go against its critics, and they were arresting journalists, members of the Board of Supervisors, politicians, and so on.
AS/COA: Besides Maricopa County, where else do immigrant families—and Latinos overall—face similar issues related to racial profiling?
Fernandez: We have witnessed a national push to have local police cooperate more with immigration authorities. And that is a recipe for disaster, because giving immigration powers to the local police is creating this environment of distrust that makes the entire community unsafe.
A study recently conducted in some counties in Arizona, California, and Illinois found that members of the Latino community in all of those places—even though they have documents to be in the United States—are afraid to contact the police if they think that the police may make an inquiry with their neighbors or ask for papers for family members. There’s that concern, and there’s that worry. If you’re a witness of a crime, can you call the police and report something? People are not doing it.
AS/COA: On July 17, Figueroa's parents will face a crucial immigration hearing that will decide their fate. If Carlos and Sandra Figueroa are allowed to stay in the United States, what implication could this decision have on similar cases in the country?
Fernández: The Figueroa case is extremely relevant because you have a couple of things going on. Congress is debating immigration reform, and also there’s a federal judge who ruled that the sheriff’s office was engaged in racial profiling during the sweeps. It’s a crucial moment because it’s going to hold the feet of the federal government to the fire.
If the judge decides that the Figueroas get to stay, it might have a positive impact on many other families that have a similar story, who were arrested for working with false papers and now have that criminal record. Only one judge will make this decision, so it doesn’t set a precedent, but it could send a powerful and positive message.
AS/COA: What is the relevance of Two Americans in the context of immigration reform in the United States?
Daniel DeVivo: When it comes to immigration reform in the United States, Two Americans is a great case study to watch for what needs to be done. The documentary humanizes a family of immigrants and exposes some of the pitfalls in our current immigration system and why we need reform.
AS/COA: What can people do to promote change in Maricopa County and raise awareness of similar cases of discrimination by law enforcement?
DeVivo: As we have seen in the past, making a case public definitely has an impact on the decision. It is important to watch the film right now and spread the word of the Figueroas’ hearing on July 17. The Figueroa family is collecting petitions to ask the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to close their case. Petitions will go to the federal government, so the more support they get, the more pressure they will be able to make.