Enter the heart of an American family living in the shadows of a state that has criminalized their existence. Walk the beat of the nation’s most recognized lawman as he stares down charges of his own. The parents of 9-year-old Katherine Figueroa are arrested when America’s Toughest Sheriff raids a Phoenix carwash suspected of hiring illegal workers. As young Kathy fights to save her parents from deportation, a community group succeeds in pressuring the County Board to investigate Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s spending priorities. When the sheriff retaliates against his political foes, his actions spark outrage, and a federal investigation.
Tune in on Sunday, Oct 27 at 9E/6P!
Q&A with the Filmmakers of Two Americans
Dan DeVivo & Valeria Fernández
Q: Why did you decide to make this film?
A: The targeted criminalization of undocumented immigrants is a disturbing trend in recent Arizona history. We wanted to make a film that would allow viewers to decide for themselves whether or not they agreed with this trend.
Two Americans follows the role that the MCSO, under Sheriff Joe Arpaio, has played in this trend. Sheriff Joe is arguably the state's most powerful politician and when he began to prioritize the arrest of "illegals" in 2005, the entire community felt the impact. And in the city of Phoenix, where 30% of the residents are Hispanic, the impact was economic, psychological, and very cruel.
Q: What did you see on the ground that surprised you the most while working on the film?
A: What surprised us the most was the amount of people being impacted by the sweeps and the emotional and financial hardship that it was causing. A lot of these undocumented families were being left without a bread-winner. Now, it wasn’t only a question of whether or not the father was going to be deported and the families were going to be separated, but how they were going to pay rent.
It also surprised us how quickly the community and the neighbors, even those who weren’t directly affected, started gathering around to help those families. There was a lot of solidarity and a lot of organizing at the very basic neighborhood level.
Q: Does the Figueroa family featured in the film mirror what most immigrant families are going through in Arizona?
A: The Figueroa family really is a case study for what a lot of immigrant families are going through in Arizona and across the country. What happened to them happened in 2009, before SB1070, so that goes to show that we already had a number of policies in Arizona that were resulting in the separation of families even before SB1070 was implemented.
In other parts of the country, situations like these also happen not necessarily because of state laws but because of federal policies, like 287(g) or Secure Communities, that are being used by local police to be sort of de facto immigration agents.
Q: Did you run into any problems while working on the film?
A: Yes, hundreds. The biggest challenge was getting access to Joe Arpaio. We had tremendous access to his agency, his office, how he runs business and a really good window into the mind of one of the most controversial politicians in the country. But it really was a challenge to gain his trust.
Another challenge was making sure that the Figueroa family was on board with us in telling such an intimate story in the midst of a tragedy. We wanted to tell the story of a young child with respect and delicacy, because we were dealing with a little kid that was nine years old and was going through such a hard experience. We wanted to make sure that we respected their privacy and that we were there only when they felt comfortable. But after a while, they were calling us and opening their doors for us to be there all the time.
Q: What was the most under-reported issue surrounding immigration in Arizona when you first began working on the film?
A: At that time, we felt that it was necessary to understand that a lot of these families have strong ties to Arizona and they’ve made Arizona their home. Also, undocumented immigrants don’t live isolated from the rest of the people; they live in mixed status families. Whatever happens to the undocumented immigrants also has a rippling effect for U.S. citizens, because they are all interconnected.
Q: What does this film teach us about Arizona?
A: When you watch this film, you come to the understanding that SB1070 didn’t happen overnight. I think Arizona has been the gateway for a lot of illegal immigration, but it really became a hot issue in the state after 9/11. During that time, there was increase interest from politicians on the issue of immigration, because they tied it to terrorism. They felt that constituents wanted something to be done about that. It was an issue that frustrated a lot of people really quickly and politicians decided to tap into it.
Russell Pearce –the architect of SB 1070, who was eventually recalled- is one of the people in Arizona who has really been at the forefront of immigration; it’s always been a concern to him. A lot of other politicians decided to join him when they saw that it was something that resonated with voters.
Among the politicians who joined him is Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Back in 2005, Arpaio started enforcing the human smuggling law, which was passed to create penalties for human smugglers who bring people into the state, because there were a lot of problems with drop houses all over Arizona. With the help of former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, Arpaio interpreted the law saying that now the immigrants could be charged with conspiring to their own smuggling. That unleashed the beginning of local law enforcement in Arizona going after immigrants.
From there, we had a number of new laws passed, including one that denied in-state-tuition to undocumented immigrants, another one that denied them bail, one that made English the official language of the state and one that denied undocumented immigrants punitive damages in the event that they filed a lawsuit against their employer. All of those things created an atmosphere in the state that was unfriendly to undocumented immigrants.
Q: How have you seen the issue of illegal immigration change in Arizona recently?
A: After so many years of having this anti-immigrant institution, we were able to measure some of the impact. There were hundreds of people leaving Arizona and together with the immigrants, the citizens were also leaving. These were our workers and our consumers leaving. That had a financial impact in the state, together with the boycotts. That’s when a lot of the politicians started to realize that these policies were not helping to weaken the inflow of illegal immigrants. Instead, it was causing unexpected economic losses for the state.
Shortly after SB1070, Sen. Russell Pearce introduced five new immigration bills in the state legislature, but 12 Republicans voted against them. They felt that enough is enough and that we already had SB1070.
Q: Why is this story relevant to other parts of the country?
A: After SB1070, we saw a lot of copycat laws spread throughout the country and the question was raised about what happens when you have different immigration bills in each state? Can you still have a uniformed policy for the whole country?
For example, if you are in Arizona, one thing is considered a crime but in another state, it’s not, so it basically brought the question of whose job is it to enforce immigration law. Is it the federal government’s job or is it the state’s?
Q: What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
A: We want to touch minds and hearts. That’s why we made a film that has humanity in its center.
Two Americans offers audiences an insider’s perspective on the experience of undocumented immigrants in Arizona and the hardships their U.S. children endure due to our policies of “attrition through enforcement” embedded in bills like SB 1070. Kathy, a U.S. Citizen will tell you in the film that "If they have to hide, I have to hide." That's her reality.
The film offers a window into the lives of these families to show that they’re not criminal aliens invading our borders, but ordinary people that want a better life and more than anything want to contribute and be part of this society.
Two Americans will provide viewers with a glimpse of the politics behind our immigration policies in Arizona by getting behind the scenes with Sheriff Arpaio.
At the end of the day, the film offers something for everyone whether you are a supporter of the sheriff or not, you’ll come away feeling closer to these two very different worlds.
Dan DeVivo believes that films are a powerful resource for popular education and cross-cultural exchange. Over the past decade, he has made films that put a human face on the tragic failures of U.S. immigration policy. His first film, Crossing Arizona, was an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival and recipient of the CINE Masters Series Award for excellence in documentary filmmaking. DeVivo graduated from Harvard University and was a 2011 Fulbright Fellow.
Valeria Fernandez is a native of Uruguay and a versatile, hyper-motivated bilingual producer with a passion for telling extraordinary stories about ordinary people rooted in shoe-leather and investigative journalism. In English or Spanish, for TV, public radio and/or print. She thrives in collaboration. Fernández has been reporting on Arizona’s immigrant community and the many angles and faces of the immigration debate for over ten years. As a senior reporter for La Voz Newspaper, Fernández produced in depth features about the plight of unaccompanied minors mistakenly charged as adults for crossing the U.S. border. The National Association of Hispanic Publications named Fernández “Latina Journalist of the Year” in 2004. She also won a national award for her series on the Maricopa County Sheriff’s immigration sweeps in Hispanic neighborhoods in 2009. Fernández is a versatile journalist that currently freelances for CNN Español, CNN International, Radio Bilingue, The World PRI, La Opinión, New America Media, and the Associated Press.