A film directed by Wayne Kramer starring Harrison Ford
Last evening I viewed Crossing Over, a 2009 film that gives a series of glimpses into the lives of people who live in the United States, but are not legal citizens. Today there are eleven million people living in the United States who were born in other countries and do not have documentation required by the government. Although this film is a work of fiction, all the events are based on the real life experiences of immigrants in this country.
One Mexican woman in the film was caught up in an INS raid and deported. Her son was left in this country without a mother. In order to provide for her family this woman needed to return to the United States and died in the desert in her attempt to re-enter. In the year 2009, 417 people died a similar death attempting to enter this country.
A young girl probably from Africa was sent to a detention center after her mother passed away. She was held in this center for immigrant children indefinitely.
An Australian woman was coerced into having sex with an immigration official in order to obtain a green card.
A girl who might have been a fourteen year old high school student from the Middle East gave a report in her class about September 11. While she was opposed to the September 11 bombings, she argued that these bombings were caused by people who responded to the repressive conditions in Palestine and Iraq. The principal of her school informed the FBI about this student’s report. A judge signed a warrant to search this student’s home. The FBI then ordered this student to be deported along with her mother. Never was there any allegation that any laws had been broken.
This year the administration of President Barack Obama has a goal of deporting more immigrants than ever before in history. With 393,000 deportations the Obama administration has already reached its goal.
There was another 2008 film titled Under the Same Moon which had a similar theme as Crossing Over. This was the story of nine-year old Carlos who traveled from Mexico to Los Angeles, California, so he could live with his mother. There was one scene in this film that I found particularly striking. The scene was of two Los Angeles police officers attempting to arrest young Carlos for sleeping on a park bench.
Seeing that scene, I thought of Martin Luther King’s famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail. At the time several people criticized King for violating the law in his protests against the system of Jim Crow segregation. They argued that King should be “patient” and that things would change eventually. King gave the following reason for why he was not going to be patient. He wrote about the time his daughter asked him if she could play in a local amusement park called Fun Town. King then went on to write about how he and his daughter felt about the fact that she was not allowed to play in Fun Town because she was Black. This was one of King’s reasons for why he was not patient and chose to break the law in the struggle to abolish Jim Crow.
I would say that there must also be at least 11 million people that are impatient about change that needs to take place with respect to the immigrant laws in this country. They would like children like young Carlos to be able to play in the parks of this country, just as Martin Luther King wanted his daughter to have the right to play in Fun Town.
Before I viewed the film Crossing Over I saw an interview with Angela Davis on the news show Democracy Now. Davis is promoting a new edition of Frederick Douglass’ autobiography.
Anyone who is familiar with the life of Frederick Douglass knows that he did not always abide by the laws of this country. Douglass was born Frederick Bailey, and violated the law at the age twelve when he learned to read. At that time it was illegal for slaves to learn to read. At the age of 19 he broke the law again and escaped slavery. He changed his name to Frederick Douglass to avoid the slave catchers who would have sent him back to slavery. When he wrote his autobiography, Douglass needed to leave the United States and moved to Britain because his autobiography was clear evidence that he was an escaped slave who was living in violation of the law. Douglass only returned to the US when his supporters purchased his freedom from a slave owner.
Angela Davis had her own problems with the law. California Governor and future President Ronald Regan openly supported firing Davis from her job as college professor because of her political views. At that time, Davis and the Los Angeles police department felt she needed to be defended from the numerous threats to her life. One of Davis’s weapons was used in a crime and Angela Davis was placed on the most wanted list of criminals by the FBI. She was incarcerated for sixteen months before she was found not guilty of any crime.
During this interview Davis stated that today there are more African Americans in prison, parole, or probation than there were slaves before the Civil War. In fact, if we read the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution which abolishes slavery in this country, we will find an exception. According to the Thirteenth Amendment, slavery is acceptable in cases of penal servitude.
Today Davis advocates for the abolition of the prison system. She argues that the prison system is not about supporting the interests of workers, but is used to stifle descent in this country. We might also argue that the immigration laws that deny working people from other counties Constitutional rights in the United States are also used to stifle descent. In both instances the law is used to prevent the lowest paid workers from attaining legal rights that could be used to allow them to struggle for better conditions.
Every year on the fourth of July there is a national holiday celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence. While the signers of the Declaration did not support giving rights to slaves, women, Native Americans, or men who did not own land, they did support immigration. One of the reasons given for the revolution in the Thirteen Colonies in this Declaration was that the King of England restricted immigration. This is what the Declaration of Independence said about one problem which provoked revolution:
“He has endeavored to prevent the Population of these States; for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners. . .”
In the following passages of the Declaration of Independence we get a better idea of what the revolutionaries who created the United States had in mind:
“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, That all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness -- That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such principles. . .”
“Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their Future Security.”
When we look at the reality of the life of Frederick Douglass, the theft of land from Native Americans, the gross disparities in income from rich to poor, from Black to white, from women to men, as well as the treatment of immigrant workers, as well as the growing unemployment we are exposed to, the above words have a bit of relevancy. These words were not just relevant in 1776 but also can be used today.
I will end this review with a quotation by Frederick Douglass:
“The struggle may be a moral one,
or it may be a physical one,
and it may be both moral and physical,
but it must be a struggle.
Power concedes nothing without a demand.
It never did and it never will.
Find out just what any people will quietly submit to
and you have found out the exact measure
of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them,
and these will continue
till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.”
The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Volume II, P. 104