The film “120 days,” which recently opened in Austin, Texas, tells the story of Miguel Cortés
By Antonieta Cadiz, Houston
President Barack Obama will soon break a record, the deportation of more than two million people in the United States. The new independent documentary “120 days” tells the story of Miguel Cortés, a man who must decide whether to follow the law and leave the country, or break it to keep his family together.
Its director, producer and editor, Ted Roach, just finished the first screening of the film at the Austin Film Festival. After four months of shooting and over two years of editing, he feels satisfied with the result. The goal was to put a human face on the country’s immigration debate.
Despite the lack of progress in the political arena, the issue has captured public attention after films like “Una Mejor Vida” (A Better Life), from director Chris Weitz, and the documentary “La Cosecha” (The Harvest), from director Roberto Romano.
In the case of Cortés, one traffic stop leads him to confront Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The government's response was clear: 120 days to leave the country voluntarily or be deported.
Roach accompanied the protagonist, his wife and two daughters throughout the whole process, which included taking responsibility for what was happening, evaluating the tough options, and then making the final decision.
None of the family has legal immigration status since they all crossed the border without papers in the late 90s. The current immigration system has no way to help them since they have no immediate family members who are U.S. citizens, which is basically the only way to justify Miguel’s stay in the country.
Obama has insisted that individuals like Cortés are not the focus his government’s deportations, and that their main objective is deporting criminals. Cortés however is one of the faces that show otherwise.
"In Mexico I have no home and no job, I would have to start over again," he says in the documentary. "We felt we were honest people, just working like everyone else, we weren’t causing any harm to anyone and we thought that provided some protection. But after this I realize there is no protection…just luck," says his wife, Maria Luisa.
So far, pro-immigrant groups nationwide have not had access to the documentary, but insist that this work has an impact on the political debate in the United States.
"When you can show the plight of separating a home through images, it helps bring others closer to see their (the Cortés family) case in terms they can understand. We are all similar in the love our families, "said Kika Matos, spokesperson for the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), the largest coalition for the rights of immigrants in the United States.
“The immigration debate is often spoken in a statistical manner that dehumanizes those most affected, and I thought Miguel’s story provided a perfect vehicle to show people the other side," says Roach. Despite the impetus given by the participation of the Latino vote in the last election, the long-awaited reform to the immigration system is stuck in Congress while millions await a change in the law that would allow them to stay.
Roach wants to give national distribution to his new film and hopes to collaborate with pro-immigrant groups so that 120 days has the greatest reach possible during 2014.
Translated and excerpted from original Latercera review.