The University of Texas at Austin
  • "The Other Side of Immigration": Q&A with documentary filmmaker

    By Jessica Sinn
    Jessica Sinn
    Published: Feb. 1, 2010

    Cover image of Roy Germano's documentary titled The Other Side of Immigration When Roy Germano, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Government, ventured into Mexico’s rural farmlands and villages in 2007 to gather research for his dissertation on Mexican immigration and politics, he couldn’t shake his frustration with the tone and substance of the heated immigration debate in the United States. He knew he had to do something to create a better understanding of why people migrate and what happens to the families left behind in Mexico.

    Germano, who is finishing a doctoral degree in political science, singlehandedly filmed, edited, directed and produced a 55-minute documentary titled “The Other Side of Immigration.” Through more than 700 interviews with the families left behind by U.S.-bound migrant workers, Germano illuminates Mexico’s most crippling economic hardships, including the effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on poor farmers, the country’s vicious cycle of poverty spurred by a corrupt government, and the social pressures on Mexicans to seek a better way of life.

    The Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington, estimates 11.5 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States today. In 2008, they sent $26 billion back to their families in Mexico in 2008.

    We sat down with Germano, who is traveling the country presenting and discussing the film, to learn more about his work.

    What is the ultimate goal you hope to achieve from making this film?
    I hope those who see my film walk away feeling more connected to a population that they may have misunderstood or not known very much about, realizing that most people — Mexican or American, citizen or immigrant — are more similar than we are different, motivated to survive, take care of our families and be recognized for our inherent worth as human beings.

    How were you able to pull off a film of this magnitude without a staff, funding, film crew or even formal training in filmmaking?
    Anytime I felt overwhelmed by the challenges of making “The Other Side of Immigration,” I was reminded by the people in the film (by way of the interviews I was editing) that it would be irresponsible of me not to do everything I could to make sure Americans had access to their insights. That kept me going every step of the way.

    How will this film inspire viewers to help improve Mexico’s infrastructure?
    I tend to think of “The Other Side of Immigration” less as a piece of art or entertainment than as an advertisement for a set of ideas. The most basic idea — one I think most people can agree on — is that the visa laws of another country would matter very little to any of us if our children were hungry and we needed to find some way to feed them. I suspect that most Americans would not think twice about migrating illegally to Canada if the U.S. economy was in ruins, or if we didn’t have things like unemployment compensation or food stamps, and there were plenty of high-wage jobs to be done in Canada. By encouraging viewers to put themselves in the shoes of those who are doing the immigrating, I hope the film leaves Americans feeling uncomfortable with an immigration policy whose primary mission is to restrict entry — an immigration policy that does nothing to address the factors that trigger and perpetuate undocumented immigration (especially those factors that the U.S. has played some part in exacerbating). And if enough Americans voice their discomfort with this approach, our policymakers will take note and, I hope, begin cooperating more with the Mexican government to reduce emigration pressures at their source.

    Throughout the filming and interviewing process did you encounter any startling discoveries?
    One thing I learned from my interviews with Mexican policymakers is that the Mexican government has established many interesting subsidization programs to help people in the rural areas start small businesses or increase yields on their farms. The problem, however, is that those who could benefit most from these programs rarely know of their existence or how to go about obtaining funding. Part of the problem is corruption, budgetary constraints and the Mexican government’s modest outreach efforts. But arguably an even bigger problem is that the process of applying for such funding is extremely complicated and requires a level of literacy that many people in the rural areas simply do not have.

    Your film touched on some possible solutions to Mexico’s problems. Could you give me an example of one of those solutions?
    The people I interviewed discussed the need for a guest-worker program to regulate the immigration that, fueled by economic necessity and perpetuated by decades of momentum, cannot be stopped with walls or border guards. The argument for such a program is that it would generate new tax revenue, satisfy demand for low-skilled labor, help us keep tabs on who is crossing the border and bring hardworking people out of the shadows and give them the rights they deserve as human beings. At the same time, such a program would allow the many Mexicans who prefer to work here temporarily the chance to save some money, return to their families in Mexico and come back in the future when times get tough.

    How can we all benefit from improving Mexico’s economy?
    Working to improve the Mexican economy is not just in our moral interest. It is also in our national interest. The public health threat posed by the H1N1 outbreak, the national security threat presented by warring drug cartels, and the myriad of social and economic problems associated with undocumented immigration, have demonstrated like never before that Mexico’s problems are indeed our problems, too. When thinking about immigration policy, the question thus becomes whether spending $10 billion per year on border control could be spent more effectively to reduce poverty in Mexico. Ignoring Mexico’s problems and attempting to hide them behind a wall will help no one.

    Learn more about the documentary and how to support Germano’s work.

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      Gisela said on Sept. 22, 2011 at 11:29 a.m.
      If you can't afford to feed your family you can't afford to file for a workers permit. It's that simple!. No one wants to do things illegally but they have to be done in order to survive, even if it means dying in the process. I don't see how people can be so inhumane and not see them as HUMAN BEINGS who's rights are being violated on a daily basis. We are not going to move forward if we don't accept both sides of the story. Just like undocumented immigrants have to learn how to become members of society we have to try and understand their situations. Working together we can accomplish great things. They were here when we needed them, they consider this country their second home, they love this country for what it has given them. Let's not ignore hearts who would die for this country.
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      Zoom said on Sept. 22, 2011 at 11:15 a.m.
      I love how people with an axe to grind REFUSE to distinguish between LEGAL and ILLEGAL immigration, as if anyone that dares suggest that there be a legal method of immigration and a need to prevent illegal immigration is somehow anti-immigrant. Nothing could be further from the truth.
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      M said on Aug. 2, 2011 at 3:19 p.m.
      I just came across this documentary and found it very interesting. I do believe the US government has a responsibility (to US citizens) to press the Mexican government to crack down on corruption and do a better job at reaching out to these folks most affected. My thought is that if your house is falling down from disrepair, you can't just move into your neighbors house because they've done a better job at upkeep. Plus if Mexico can have a department for immigrants abroad, then they surely can have a department specifically educating and helping farmers (and small business) navigate their available programs. What the Mexican government is doing is avoiding a revolt by assisting people out of their borders. We should be pressing their government demanding better responses. A border fence is not the best use of funds in my opinion, they would be better utilized in assisting the aforementioned effort.
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      Jaime said on Feb. 18, 2010 at 6:19 a.m.
      I agree with you, Greg. It is not the powerless that needs to be blamed in this kind of situation because they can't do or they are not capable because they have no power to do it. The powerful people, especially the politicians, are the one that should be blame because they can do or they are capable of making change. They have the power to produce or to make a solution. It is through educating children in the right way (rich or poor) that we can have a better future in our place.
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      Greg said on Feb. 9, 2010 at 3:13 p.m.
      Why is it that the most powerless people are to blame for the greatest problems we face? Blaming children for the condition of our schools? - that is beyond low. Our biggest problem is finding a way to educate the kids in our schools. It is about survival; and this country will not survive if we continue to ignore our public schools as we have done for the last 30 years. If that means educating children who are not to blame for their parents legal status then so be it - the truth is most of the chilren in schools are legal. If that means providing medical services for those who would otherwise die then so be it. This country needs to stop whining and start accepting the reality of the problems we face, these problems not going away and they will not fix themselves.
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      Julie B said on Feb. 8, 2010 at 6:06 p.m.
      Back when America was a rich country with jobs to spare we could afford to help. Now we are in a struggle for survival. Our schools are failing under the pressure of educating illegals, the demand on social services is crushing and the hospital are failing because the illegals can not pay for their own services. America is no longer rich and we in the middle class can not take on more mouths to feed.
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      Salvador said on Feb. 5, 2010 at 3:31 p.m.
      I took immigration classes at UT & have worked at an immigration law firm so I might know a lil bit about the issues. The blatant realities of immigration is very evident as people suffer life & limb to just come to this country for a better life. While I understand the legal parameters that are needed to regulate our borders for security and economic reasons, one cannot ignore the needs to sustain an immigrants own family. Especially when our own government demands, requires and specifically creates loopholes to allow low waged/low scheduled undocumented labor. If our politicians really wanted to crack down on this immigration situation they can and they would. These politicians don't because the business sector needs the low wage worker to work at the restaurants and the construction worker in building those huge suburbans houses. Immigration reform is sticky/contentious but possible; it's just that there are some that benefit by not regulating it. In other words, the businesses who blatantly depend and need the cheap labor. The only time when the issue of immigration becomes an issue is when so politician is in need to utilize it for its own benefit. The right-winged republican, utilizes it to instill FEAR, very effectively toward the rural Whites into thinking immigrants are taking over and that results in wacky/zealous militia groups. The liberals shout for no borders proclamation and then we have no control over our country. The happy medium is there, you just gotta bring some common sense politicians with conviction, brains and patience. The solutions are there.... we just need to take care of business.
    • Quote 2
      Greg said on Feb. 5, 2010 at 11:59 a.m.
      Roy Germano's documentary is timely and helpful in contributed to the understanding of this extremely important issue. No one suggests Mexicans immigrate freely to the US. The suggestion is to allow Mexican workers to come through the guest worker program, to do the jobs employers require, to earn the money they need, and to return. The worker is not an immigrant. The guest worker policy is not immigration policy. The benefit is that the workers would be identifiable and legal. Such a policy benefits both the US and Mexico because Mexican workers earn while US employees find required labor, and it would be legal. To immigrate legally through the current process, a process which requires the immigrant wait for several years for approval is unacceptable for all (even to those who immigrate legally), especially so when one's family is hungry and there are jobs to be had at wages which are enticing, and employeers willing to employ. What is worse is the double standard of those who rally against these workers whose labor puts food on US tables at a price Americans can afford. To further add insult to injury, the US asked for these workers by passing NAFTA which subsidized corn at such a low price that Mexican farmers were driven out of business, further promoting illegal immigration. NAFTA allowed US retailers to enter the Mexican market driving most small businesses out further disrupting the economy promoting illegal immigration. Americans would do well to remember that what is bad for Mexican workers is bad for Mexico which in turn is bad for the US.
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      utbiograd said on Feb. 4, 2010 at 12:11 p.m.
      I agree with you Victor. Mexico could be a great affluent neighbor if it's governmental infrastructure wasn't so corrupt. It is a beautiful country, has abundant resources, and the people that aren't involved in corruption are hard working for the most part. I am all for helping Mexico develop, but I don't think we should "help" by letting their citizen come here freely.
    • Quote 2
      monte said on Feb. 4, 2010 at 11:02 a.m.
      The title of the film is not accurate. It is not about immigration, it is about illegal immigration. A completely different topic completely.
    • Quote 2
      Sara Green said on Feb. 4, 2010 at 11:33 a.m.
      "I hope those who see my film walk away feeling more connected to a population that they may have misunderstood or not known very much about, realizing that most people — Mexican or American, citizen or immigrant — are more similar than we are different, motivated to survive, take care of our families and be recognized for our inherent worth as human beings." He thinks we are not aware of this? He doesn't think much of Americans in general, does he?
    • Quote 2
      victor said on Feb. 4, 2010 at 7:58 a.m.
      I am a Mexican my self, but I live in Ohio. Because of this I visit Mexico rarely, but when I do get the honor, it is somewhat saddening to see such a beautiful country the way it is. The U.S. has it's own problems yes, but like Germano said, if not addressed, Mexico's problems become that of the U.S. as well. Immigration is such a miniscule problem compared to others being had. I understand the U.S. government's concern, but im sure anyone would agree that if we were in the shoes of those Mexicans being affected, we would want someone to stretch out a hand to us.
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      utbiograd said on Feb. 3, 2010 at 12:51 p.m.
      I think that anyone that wants to come to this country, should do so legally. There are many immigrants from all over the world, who wait years to come into this country the right way. For someone to just cross the border, any border, and expect rights as a citizen, or for their children to have rights as a citizen is wrong. It is basically a slap in face to those who attempt to immigrate here by the law.
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      jason said on Feb. 2, 2010 at 9:51 a.m.
      I live on the Mexican border in Texas, and I can vouch first hand that it's a heartbreaking situation down here. I have to say though, that I have mixed feelings about a policy that aims to keep people out. I don't want the whole world showing up on our doorstep, and if we let in the masses of South America and Mexico, then it's only fair to let ALL peoples come and get a slice of the pie. Is that what we want?
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