Documentary hopes to change opinions on immigrant workers

The town of Postville, Iowa, lost approximately one-tenth of its population on May 12, 2008, when Agriprocessors Inc., the country’s largest kosher meatpacking plant and slaughterhouse, was raided by a government immigration agency, which arrested nearly 400 undocumented immigrant workers.

Two years later, freelance journalists Greg Brosnan and Jennifer Szymaszek turned out their first documentary In the Shadow of the Raid, screening it in the UH Law Center and Honors College on Monday and Tuesday.

The documentary depicts the aftermath of the incident; the raid left Postville in an economic downturn, pushed it to the brink of collapse, and caused suffering in a small poverty-stricken Guatemalan village, where most of those arrested were from.

“We wanted to do this (documentary) to help tell the stories that needed to be told,” Szymaszek said.

With those affected being able to speak and tell their stories, the filmmakers hope the public, especially those who are in favor of the deportation of illegal immigrants, will become better informed on the issue of immigration and correct any misinformation and misconceptions the public might have about immigrant workers.

“We wanted to personalize and humanize the plight of immigrants,” Szymaszek said. “Have people look beyond the figures and the numbers.”

Hoping this documentary would help move Americans’ mindsets on immigration reform toward understanding, the couple spent nearly two months in both Guatemala and Postville filming over 70 hours of footage in order to develop the 35 minute documentary.

Szymaszek and Brosnan said that they would love for their documentary to inspire people to take action and lobby Congress on behalf of these immigrant workers.

“If we push too much into politics, we risk getting black labeled,” Brosnan said, explaining that he and Szymaszek are trying to enlighten the public as journalists, not activists, and that it is in the hands of the audience to take the next step.

The film was first screened at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. UH is the second university to hold a screening of the film.

The filmmakers also plan to do a university tour next fall.

Because Texas is on the front line in many immigration debates, Szymaszek and Brosnan knew that UH would be the right place to screen the film

“In a few years time, UH law students are going to be in the court room fighting these types of cases,” Brosnan said, trusting that this documentary will be enlightening for those who are studying law and will help them understand the situations they might have to deal with.

UH was brought to the attention of the filmmakers when UH English professor and Iowa native Lois Zamora met Szymaszek and Brosnan at the documentary’s premiere at Mexico’s Morelia International Film Festival in October 2009.

Working together with the Center for the Americas, the Latin American Studies Program, History Department, Honors College, Center for Immigration Research, Visual Studies Program, University of Houston Immigration Law Clinic and the Leonard B. Rosenberg Professorship, Zamora was able to bring the documentary to UH.

“Immigrations touches us all, and I wanted to raise awareness on campus about immigration issues,” Zamora said.

“Once students see this documentary, I hope that they will become politically involved to improve government policy and speak for the victims that don’t have a voice.”

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