By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Filmmaker Luis Argueta traveled to Postville, Iowa, in 2008 because he couldn’t believe everything he was reading and hearing about a widely publicized immigration raid at a meatpacking plant on May 12 of that year. His first visit led to many more and inspired his trilogy of documentaries on immigrant communities. Argueta will screen the third in the trilogy, “The U Turn,” April 19 at 6:30 p.m. at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. Discussion will follow. All are welcome to the free event.
During his first visit to Postville, “the people I met, the stories I heard and the events I witnessed, made me realize that this was a much bigger event than I had thought,” Arugeta said. “That is how I went back time and time again until I finished the first documentary film, ‘abUSed: The Postville Raid.’”
That film “narrates the story of the most expensive, one of the most brutal and the largest single-site immigration raids in the history of the U.S.,” he said. After completing the film, he launched a community engagement campaign to present it at colleges, universities, community organizations and immigration and workers conferences.
Argueta also decided to follow the lives of some of the immigrant families he had come to know in Iowa.
He witnessed how “the children of the families who remained in Postville after the raid progressed in school, how some U.S. citizen children left the country as what I call ‘De Facto Deportees’ when their parents were deported or decided to take ‘voluntary departure.’”
He saw single mothers who wore monitoring ankle bracelets and were not allowed to work. They struggled to feed, clothe and educate their children while their husbands were sent to jail for five months and then deported. “I was inspired by the solidarity of a community that walked along with these immigrants and supported them emotionally, materially and spiritually.”
He visited other immigrant communities as well, including one in Worthington, Minn., which led to production of another documentary, “ABRAZOS.” Meanwhile, he gathered material for “The U Turn,” which narrates the transformational journey of immigrant workers who broke the silence about abuses they endured at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville. The “U Visa,” which provides immigration relief as part of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), figures prominently in the film.
“One of the main purposes of the U Visa is to encourage immigrants who are victims of violent crimes to come forward and denounce the crime and the perpetrators, contributing to the safety of the community,” Argueta told The Catholic Messenger. Usually, these victims are reluctant to speak to law enforcement for fear that they will be arrested for lack of immigration status.
Argueta saw how some Postville immigrants began to lose their fear of speaking out about the crimes they were subjected to at the plant where they were arrested May 12, 2008. “I wanted to showcase their struggle and their transformation and also wanted to explain the complex and long process of applying for a U Visa. My hope was also to make it more understandable for other immigrants, law enforcement, immigrant advocates and the general public. Postville is the place where most U visas have ever been awarded for crimes of violence committed against workers (and their immediate relatives) in a single work-site.”
His films, he said, are “intended to contribute to the national (and international) conversation on one of the most crucial issues of our times: immigration. They are intended to present the human face of immigration and to help us begin to understand the subtleties and complexities of a subject which is most often made black and white. …Because our opinions are formed early in life, I’d like to have my films shown and studied in schools (each film has free study guides for different levels — elementary, high school, college and adults).”
He hopes viewers of The U Turn will see “how the stranger among us is a neighbor to be welcomed and not an enemy to be feared; how diversity is a beneficial fact of life in the U.S. At times such as the present, when such strong winds of intolerance, xenophobia and hate against immigrants are blowing across the nation, I hope we can all allow our hearts to be touched by the people whose stories are told in this film. Maybe then, we will begin our own personal U Turn.”