“They Come to America” is a new documentary from New York filmmaker Dennis Michael Lynch, who has taken particular care to examine the illegal immigration issue in a very balanced manner. I know many films get labeled as “must see,” but this one really is a must see for its thoroughness in exploring the issue and its sensitivity to never losing sight of the human costs.
Lynch confesses to being nonpolitical and to not voting for 20 years (something he says he’s not proud of and plans to change now that he’s had an awakening on the immigration issue). So what got him interested in the now highly polarized topic of illegal immigration? An intersection of unrelated events while he was working in the Hamptons on his first film.
While driving, the avowed Neil Diamond fan was singing along with “America” – Diamond’s anthem to immigrants – and saw a fellow on the street he’d seen repeatedly with a “Deport Illegals” sign. Out of complete curiosity, he stopped to get this protester’s story. That was the start of a filming journey that lasted from November 2010 through October 2011.
For being nonpolitical, Lynch comes up to speed quickly, essentially hitting on all of the relevant issues around the illegal immigration topic – among them, chain migration, birthright citizenship, sanctuary cities, security and safety, and drug and human smuggling. He gets that legal immigration spurs illegal immigration, with tremendous ramifications on employment and the overall economy.
Lynch identifies respected resources who understand the immigration issue, including Roy Beck of NumbersUSA, Jack Martin of FAIR and Michael Cutler, a former INS agent and contributor to CAPS, and draws on their knowledge for “Coming to America.”
Florida is an initial focus in the film, as Lynch teams up with journalist John Roland there. A New York news anchor for 30 years, Roland retired to Florida about 12 years ago and says there are hundreds of thousands of immigrants living in the state. The pair goes on to create a snapshot of the state which is now home to about 19 million people.
“If I didn’t speak Spanish here, I wouldn’t live here!” says one man on the street. Another interviewee at a job fair explains she’s been out of work for more than two years and can’t find work in her field because she doesn’t speak Spanish.
In the film, it’s made clear that the problem is not immigrants – the blame is placed squarely on immigration policy. With Roy Beck’s effective illustration, it’s shown how both legal and illegal immigration is driving out-of-control U.S. population growth and how we’ve been driven by mass immigration for the last 40 years.
We’re not able to achieve quality of life we want at 300 million, says Beck, so we certainly won’t be able to with population at double that. This is where we’re headed, continues Beck.
Besides identifying problems, the film offers solutions, including use of the E-Verify program, an Internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States. In the film, FAIR says the single greatest step to counter illegal immigration is to deny jobs to people who are in the country illegally, because “when the word gets out, people won’t come.”
Lynch also gets a tour of Queens, New York, with Michael Cutler, who shows him the numerous travel agencies, money remitters and places that move cargo, which he says are essential to the illegal population and are custom-made for drug traffickers and potentially terrorists.
“This is the drain through which America’s money vanishes out of our economy,” says Cutler.
Cutler also discusses how puny our efforts at immigration enforcement are. He says that there are 5 million or more people in the country who have violated the terms of their admission, but only 270 agents to look for them.
Leaving no aspect of illegal immigration untouched, Lynch also heads to the U.S.-Mexican border for a first-hand look, staying near a drug cartel and going to places where even law enforcement won’t go. He meets with area ranchers and learns of their challenges.
“I can’t go feed my animals at the barn without taking a firearm with me,” says one. “And there might be 10 illegals asleep in the barn.”
The ranchers’ stories, coupled with what Lynch finds at the border (drug and human trafficking and warning signs, “Travel Caution – Smuggling and Illegal Immigration May Be Encountered in This Area”), make the comments from the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security sound completely clueless. Secretary Janet Napolitano has said of the border status, “I would say it is very secure.”
Lynch says in the film, “We could be setting ourselves up for another 9-11, because it is so easy to get into this country.”
Most poignantly, Lynch tells the story of an illegal worker that he befriends and wants to help and of an out-of-work American he encounters in his travels. Of the latter, he says, “We can’t have Americans sleeping in the snow, because they cannot find work. We can’t have people continuing to struggle and living as if America was now a Third World nation.”
If I could do a “Clockwork Orange” on all the folks who are in denial about the U.S. immigration mess, the film I’d make them watch would be “They Come to America.”
According to Lynch, despite numerous people telling him his film is Oscar-caliber and despite his approach to telling the story (“I really went down the middle on this topic,” he says), “They Come to America” has been turned down by more than 30 film festivals, and a large distribution deal was pulled at the 11th hour. So currently the best way to see the film is buy a copy at theycometoamerica.com. Have a viewing party with family and/or friends – at $19.99 (includes shipping), it’s less than the cost for two to see a film at the theater (at least where I live!).