On October 22, 2015, American University held a screening of the documentary, 120 Days. The film follows a family of undocumented immigrants. After twelve years of living in the United States, the father, Miguel, was pulled over without cause (no moving violations were discussed or issued). During the traffic stop the officer discovers that Miguel does not have a license. Miguel is brought to the police station where he is jailed and charged for being an undocumented immigrant. With the help of a friend, Miguel posted bail on the covenant that he would voluntarily depart the country in 120 days. The documentary follows Miguel and his family as they prepare for his last four months in the United States.
In interviews, Miguel says that he was a part of a group within the undocumented immigrant community which police would not detain. Although local police officers were aware the group did not hold legal documentation, they never pursued criminal charges. Likewise, the community also knew which police officers to be wary of and where those officers were frequently stationed, in order to avoid them.
Under the Delegation of Immigration Authority Section 287 (g), Immigration and Nationality Act police officers are allowed to act as immigration enforcers. Many officers use this statute as a way to racially profile and subsequently deport undocumented workers. According to the filmmaker, Ted Roach, more than fifty percent of people arrested under 287(g) were initially stopped for traffic violations. In fact, 287(g) was originally intended to give local and state officers a way to charge repeat offenders. However, as the film demonstrates, the statute is more frequently used for racial profiling.
In the film Miguel was portrayed as very active in the local community. One of his favorite activities was teaching young children to sing and dance. These children would then perform in nursing homes to share the love and joy of Mexican music. In fact, Miguel received an award for outstanding community service from Raleigh Parks and Recreation. It was interesting to see the juxtaposition. One branch of the U.S. government was trying to deport Miguel, while a different branch was simultaneously commemorating his excellent community service work.
After the film there was a panel discussion with the filmmaker. During the discussion Ted Roach explained that Miguel’s family followed him back to Mexico shortly after he “voluntarily self-deported.” Since then, Miguel and his family have been traveling around Mexico trying to find honest work. The family regrets returning to Mexico because they feel the children are not getting the same level of education they received in the U.S. They are hopeful that they will be able to legally return to the U.S. someday.
Lastly, the filmmaker shared that 287(g) can now only be used on people currently incarcerated.