After so many years of deadlock on the immigration debate, you think you’ve seen it all.
We know who the DREAMers are: children who were brought to this country as kids with no choice in the matter. We know their stories. They grew up here, they’ve lived here all their lives, some of them only speak English. For all intents and purposes, we’ve heard for years, they’re Americans, they just don’t have the documentation to prove it. And chances are that, by now, you’ve already made up your mind on whether their stories are going to sway you one way or the other on immigration reform.
As you sit through the first 20 minutes of ‘Indivisible,’ the question comes to mind: Why do we need another documentary on this subject? Halfway through the movie, when you watch two of the film’s protagonists, Renata and Evelyn, reunite with their mothers on the U.S.-Mexico border, the answer becomes clear.
The families hug through small openings in the border fence: the sons and daughters on the U.S. side of the border, the parents, two of whom have traveled all the way from Brazil and Colombia respectively, on the Mexico side; families very literally separated by iron rods in a fence. They laugh, they cry, they try their best to hug, but as one of the mothers says, she thought she would be able to give her a real hug.
The visuals of that meeting are heartbreaking and put a human face on the consequences of deportation at a time when the issue of immigration in our country could not be more divisive. As one of the DREAMers in the film says: “This is what immigration reform looks like. For families to be able to reunite and not have to hug through a fence.”
The story really takes off after that. The movie chronicles the struggles of three young DREAMers – Antonio, Renata and Evelyn – attempting to reunite, if only briefly, with their families by visiting their home country. To do that, they have to receive permission from the federal government, however. And on top of trying to wade through the bureaucratic immigration system to gain permission to travel home, these DREAMers are organizing to fight for immigration reform.
They meet with high level congressmen including Chuck Schumer and Marco Rubio and meet defeat after defeat with boundless optimism. But, as we all know, their attempts are unsuccessful.
They are left with only temporary reliefs as a means to see their families again. When Antonio, a 19-year-old who left Mexico at the age of 10 for New York City, returns to his rural home in the Mexican countryside, he is squarely out of place.
Director Hilary Linder captures this sentiment in a shot where Antonio watches his relatives butchering a cow in preparation for a meal. A voice off camera asks if he ever helped with similar preparations as a boy. Yes, he says, but now it’s different. He checks his cell phone as his relatives continue cutting into the meat and Antonio takes his place washing dishes in order to be of help.
In a following scene, Linder capitalizes on the sentiment. Antonio is out in a field with a machete, hacking away at some brush. Antonio tells the camera how hard this work is and that he does not know how to do it. He’s a “city boy” with an education, he says, and he hopes people take that into account when thinking about the immigration debate.
The movie also follows Evelyn, a Colombian immigrant living in Orlando who is the only one of three sisters who is not a U.S. citizen. Evelyn’s sister, Pamela, talks about having to choose between holding her wedding in Colombia where her mother had been deported to and not having Evelyn there, or having the wedding in the United States and leaving out her mother. A perfect illustration of the problems immigrant families have that the rest of us don’t have to think about.
When she finally returns to Colombia after 23 years, Evelyn is greeted by a sign at the airport that says: “Welcome to your roots, your land and your family.” She and her mother lock into a hug that seems to last for a minute to the audience, but is well worth it for the two women on screen, for whom the wait to see each other again in person must have seemed eternal. And that understanding that sinks in after watching the film is well worth the trouble of telling this story again.
In the end, the first 20 or so minutes that Linder uses to set up the story are a bit slow and tell a story that the average American is all too familiar with. But if you can sit patiently through that, the rest of the 78-minute film, which details these young people’s efforts to reunite with their families, is well worth the wait.