Documentary shows raid had profound impact on both sides of the border

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Raid Villager
Greg Brosnan Photo
Well into his 80s, Tío Chus holds a picture of his niece, Lilian, who sent money for food back to him in Guatemala until the day of the raid.

On the morning of May 12, 2008, federal agents swooped down on a meat packing plant in Postville, Iowa, arresting 389 illegal immigrants in what officials called “the largest single-site operation of its kind in American history.” Some were released on humanitarian grounds and a few juveniles were quickly deported, but 306 of the workers were held on charges of aggravated identity theft and Social Security fraud. The raid was one more hardship for those arrested and their families. But in a broader sense, it also devastated the small town of Postville and two impoverished villages in Guatemala where many of the residents were dependent on the economic lifeline from America.

Two young journalists living in Mexico City were thinking of making a documentary and casting about for a subject when they read about the raid. “When we heard that nearly 400 people had been arrested, we imagined that many of them were probably from the same villages or towns in Mexico or Guatemala or elsewhere in Central America,” said Greg Brosnan who operates Streetdog Media with his photojournalist fiancée, Jennifer Szymaszek.  “If 50 or so were from one small village, the financial impact would be calamitous. When we found that nearly 200 came from two very poor, neighboring villages, we headed to Iowa.”

Greg Brosnan and Jennifer Szymaszek, journalists living in Mexico City, took note of a huge immigration roundup in a small town in Iowa – and created a documentary about the impact the raid had not only on those arrested, but the people on both sides of the border who were dependent on the undocumented workers.

Greg Brosnan and Jennifer Szymaszek, journalists living in Mexico City, took note of a huge immigration roundup in a small town in Iowa – and created a documentary about the impact the raid had not only on those arrested, but the people on both sides of the border who were dependent on the undocumented workers.

The resulting film, In the Shadow of the Raid, will be shown at the Law Center on Monday, March 29, at noon in room 240 BLB. It also will be screened on Tuesday, March 30, at 2:30 p.m. in the Honors Commons in M.D. Anderson Library. Clinical Associate Professor Geoffrey A. Hoffman, director of the Law Center’s Immigration Clinic, will introduce the filmmakers and their work.

The film was extremely well received when it premiered in London and Morelia, Mexico, Brosnan said. Although some wrote on-line that the illegal workers “got what they deserved,” the more prevalent reaction was one of sympathy, Brosnan said. “People generally have seen the plight of the migrant workers in a very different light after understanding why they left Guatemala in the first place and the lack of opportunities there,” he said. “People tend to be equally impacted by seeing the way Postville, formerly a boomtown, was laid to waste economically by the raid. 

“We're journalists, not activists,” said Brosnan, who worked for Reuters for seven years and freelanced for a number of publications, including the Houston Chronicle. “We want to avoid taking sides and preaching to anyone about the pros and cons of immigration reform. But there's a lot of disinformation out there about the subject. Hopefully our film will force people from across the political spectrum to look beyond the numbers at the human beings whose lives are caught up in this issue.”

In the Shadow of the Raid
Monday, March 29
Noon
Law Center, Room 240 BLB
Tuesday, March 30
2:30 p.m.
M.D. Anderson Library
Honors Commons
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