Immigration is one of the most pressing issues facing the United States. Every year, hundreds of thousands of migrants from countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and surrounding countries make the dangerous journey to the United States in search of a better life, only to be threatened with alienation, deportation and even violence.
Luis Argueta, Guatemalan film director and producer, aimed to shed light on this issue with his presentation titled “Life After Deportation,” which consisted of two short films and discussion revolving around them and immigration. This event was hosted at Science Hall 181 on Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 5 p.m.
Argueta wasn’t originally involved in film. He came to the United States when he was 20 with a full scholarship to study engineering. He changed the trajectory of his education by focusing on liberal arts instead. “When I finished my engineering degree, I realized that was not where my heart was,” Argueta said. “I have a masters in languages and rediscovered my love for theatre and literature, and began to experiment with film.”
Argueta later went to Europe where he worked on the feature film ‘The Tree of Guernica,’ directed by Fernando Arrabal. He then went to New York to do advertising work, but quickly changed gears after 9/11, needing to do something for his soul. His interest in working with undocumented immigrants culminated in him documenting the aftermath of the Postville, Iowa immigration raid in 2008, in which 393 undocumented workers at the Agriprocessors meat packing plant were deported.
The first of the two films focused on this incident, and specifically focused on Mercedes Gomez, a Guatemalan immigrant and mother was subjected to unfair due process. The government gave her a deal; either plead guilty to using illegal documents to work in the United States, spend five months in jail, then get deported or plead innocent, fight it in court and spend up to two years in jail at minimum if found guilty. Mercedes took the first option, and found herself back in Guatemala. The film was made 10 years later about her life there.
The second film is about a group of men who had just been deported to their country of origin, Guatemala, despite living in the United States for a number of years. Nearly all the men share a similar sentiment; deportation has completely upheaved their lives.
“Over there (in the USA) you work and prosper,” said Leo, an immigrant who was living in Postville, Iowa for two years. “Here, you work just to survive.” At the time of filming, Leo had been living with his mother and despite his efforts, wasn’t able to get his own house in Guatemala.
Tony, another immigrant, had been living in the United States for 30 years before being forcibly deported. He had started a family here, and missed them deeply. His family had also been deeply shaken by this event.
“For me, the worst was leaving my family—my children,” Leo said. “You get a call— ‘I had to take the kids to the psychologist. They are not well.’”
According to New Paltz Lecturer Luz Porras, SUNY New Paltz was among many of the colleges that Argueta will present at.
“I’m part of a listing of universities,” Porras said.
Their relationship runs deep. Porras has known Argueta for the past five years and Argueta has presented his documentaries at New Paltz before.
The event was incredibly well received by the audience. During the Q&A session, students were committed to understanding the plights of these migrants. They asked questions regarding job opportunities, migration patterns and the U.S. government’s role in the matter.
Spanish education major and third-year transfer student Angel Guevara was there to support migrants, and believes that everyone should be welcome here.
“I’m always here for a positive cause,” he said. “Why be on the other side of the fence when you can be on this one?”
Argueta urges students to “see the humanity behind the statistics of immigration, and for us to start thinking of immigrants in a different light, and not be victims of the fear that’s in the air.”
“We have to get away from stereotypes and from the fear, and be more compassionate,” Argueta said. “We need to be more commonsensical about these issues.”