UNACCOMPANIED: ALONE IN AMERICA

A note from the film-maker, Linda Freedman :

 Unaccompanied Producer: Linda Freedman

Unaccompanied Producer: Linda Freedman

It was mid-March, 2014.  I was sitting at my breakfast table, reading The Oregonian. I came across a piece written by Anna Ciesielski, a young lawyer working for Immigration Counseling Service, who represents unaccompanied children from Central America in immigration proceedings. She described the situations these children face and the nature of her work with them. And It broke something in me. 

Children arrested by the United States Government have no right to court-appointed representation in immigration proceedings. 

As I read her descriptions of children appearing in court alone, without a lawyer, 
I was filled with shock, and disbelief. 

How could this be going on in my own country?

How could this sort of thing be happening without anyone knowing about it?   

I cut out the article and taped it to the side of my computer, thinking that someone, somewhere, must be working to bring this story to light. I started searching for more information on the subject: newspaper articles, editorials, investigative reports. When I did find references to unaccompanied children, they were buried deep within white papers and policy statements, where no one would notice, and my despair continued to grow. I decided to pick up the phone and call Anna. 

On the day we met for lunch, I listened in horror as she described children, some as young as toddlers, and her endeavors to assist them through immigration proceedings.  What I learned about their plight deeply disturbed me: 

  • Under U.S. law, children arrested for entering the U.S. illegally, have no right to a court-appointed lawyer.

  • Although most children don’t speak or understand English, they have no access to interpreters. They don’t understand U.S. immigration laws; laws so complex, most adults aren’t able to comprehend them.

  • Children have no way to contact, communicate with, or hire a lawyer.  

The Department of justice prohibits the use of cameras and recording devices in the immagration  courtrooms. 

I was stunned at the obstacles they faced alone, and the disregard for their basic rights. I came away from our meeting convinced that I wanted to help- but how?  

I envisioned a short film that could galvanize the general public and inspire action. With luck, it would also energize other professionals who want to help. I imagined it rousing attorneys, law students, translators and others who could help unaccompanied children navigate the daunting circumstances facing them. 

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With this goal in mind, I spent months talking with and filming interviews with pro bono attorneys who had represented unaccompanied children. I attended immigration hearings. I talked to anyone who had any experience working with unaccompanied kids. I fell down one rabbit hole after another, but no matter how I edited the interviews and B roll, none of the rough cuts had the impact I was looking for. 

Because the Department of Justice does not allow recording devices in immigration hearings, It felt impossible to convey the story that needed to be told. I became so disheartened, I shelved the project for more than a year. 

Finally, a new approach took shape, film a reenactment of the children's circumstances in the most realistic way possible. And with the help of an amazing team, we brought the vision to life.

Over four years later, and with timing that is devastatingly appropriate, I am relieved and incredibly grateful to finally be sharing the story of unaccompanied children, the forgotten ones, who have no one to guide them, hold them, or serve them.

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I'm so honored to share their story now, because I know in my heart that this film will find those of you who will rise up, as you always do, to help your fellow humans in their time of need.

When one child hurts, we all hurt, and to quote a fellow love-warrior: 

"There is no such thing as other people’s children." 

With deep respect and gratitude for all that you do, 

Linda Freedman  
Producer/Filmmaker
 

 

I am forever grateful for the generosity of retired Judge William Snouffer, who agreed to return to the bench for just one day; law professor Robert Miller, from Arizona State University, who played the role of government attorney;  Sean Rawson from Immigration Counseling Service, who agreed to be the court translator; and to our amazing ICS staff and friends who showed up with their beautiful children to play the roles of the unaccompanied. 

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