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'It was never going to be an easy road': Two filmmakers on immigration reform post-2001

The Migration Policy Institute has posted an insightful Q&A with the two directors of How Democracy Works Now, a 12-part documentary series that follows the trajectory of immigration reform plans from the optimism-filled days of mid-2001 through the period following the terrorist attacks of that September 11, and what has happened since.

The fillmmakers, Shari Robertson and Michael Camerini, had only planned on a yearlong project, choosing immigration reform as a topic to focus on for a film that would show how laws are made. They had been filming only a few weeks when the 9/11 attacks occurred. As they continued working - ultimately gathering 1,400 hours of film - the project turned into something altogether different. Parts of the series have already aired, including an episode that debuted on HBO in 2010. Other segments are now being shown in screenings held around the country.

An excerpt from the Q&A, conducted by MPI's Joyce Matthews (note: "CIR" is used as an acronym for "comprehensive immigration reform"):

JM: Let's go back to the beginning, in late summer of 2001 when you first began to film in Washington, DC. The first of your films begins with a series of scenes at the White House, when Mexican President Vincente Fox met with President George W. Bush about immigration reform. Of course, at that time CIR seemed just on the horizon. Can you speak a bit to the optimism on Capitol Hill at that time? Was there a sense of "This is the time; it's destined to happen"?

MC: You could say that the prevailing sense of optimism was what made this whole project possible. It really felt to everybody like it was going to happen. And for the advocates and the people on Capitol Hill who were veterans of the 1996 wars [when the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act was being debated], it was like the brokenhearted had fallen in love again. Everyone seemed to have this feeling that it was a little…

SR: It was almost more than optimism: It was wonder. It was like when you fall in love and you can't quite believe it.

MC: Even so, it was never going to be an easy road. If 9/11 hadn't happened, the underlying ambivalence that the AFL-CIO feels toward immigrants would have emerged. The issues of enforcement and advocates' discomfort with enforcement would have come up. All of the things that were part of the ensuing struggle — the grand bargain — would have been there.

SR: Right, but the opposition to CIR before 9/11 was so much more scant and fragmented at that point, and not at all the political force that it has since become. Within a couple of years of the attacks, the opposition to CIR had become pretty powerful, but at the early stage — even though it wouldn't have been as easy as it might have initially seemed — CIR probably would have happened. For one thing it was something that at least part of the White House wanted. President Bush himself wanted it.

The entire Q&A can be read here.