Friday, April 12, 2024

Guest Blogger Series: Roy Germano on “The Other Side of Immigration”

The Other Side of Immigration is an hour-long documentary film that I shot and directed in the Mexican countryside while collecting data for my doctoral thesis. Based on over 700 interviews, the film poses some basic questions to the residents of various “high-emigration” Mexican communities: Why do so many people from your town leave to work in the United States? What happens to the families that stay behind? How can the U.S. and Mexico work together to develop more effective immigration policies?

Making this film wasn’t part of my degree program, but it was something that I felt compelled to complete for the simple reason that I believe the people I met while doing my research—return migrants, peasant farmers, and relatives of those who’ve made the journey northward—have important insights to contribute to our immigration debate, if only someone would listen to them.

What they say might surprise you. They will tell you, for instance, that most Mexicans migrate with the intention of working in the U.S. temporarily, saving some money, and returning to Mexico to build a decent concrete or brick home, maybe start a small business, and feed and put their children through school—more a quest for the Mexican Dream than any American Dream. They’ll also tell you that crossing the border illegally can cost a year’s wages in smugglers’ fees and a lifetime of nightmares, so many Mexicans end up staying for years or decades as to capitalize on all they risked and spent to get into the U.S. the first time. They’ll tell you that all they’re asking for is a temporary work visa—not U.S. citizenship—simply so they can work with rights and without fear, go home to their families after a year or two, and possibly return to the U.S. when economic hardship strikes again without having to relive the hell of crossing the border illegally.

As long as they do not have relatively efficient access to temporary work visas, millions of Mexicans will continue to immigrate to the U.S. illegally, no matter how high we build our fences or how restrictive we make our laws. Any other interpretation underestimates the determination of parents who want the best for their children. Violating the immigration laws of a foreign country is clearly illegal—Mexicans and Americans alike, we can all agree on that much. But we have to ask ourselves how seriously we would consider migrating illegally to Canada if the U.S. economy was in ruins, our children were destined for a life of poverty, and there were plenty of high-wage jobs to be done in Canada.

By forcing us to ask ourselves questions like this, I hope the insights expressed by the men and women who appear in The Other Side of Immigration inspire a more sophisticated and creative debate about how to manage Mexican immigration—a conversation that takes us beyond the simplistic notion that fortifying the border and cutting off jobs to foreigners is the best we can do. I hope this film can play some role in encouraging more Americans to put themselves in the shoes of those who leave Mexico and those who stay behind, using an analysis of the interconnections between immigration and other social, political, and economic phenomena as the starting point for imagining more innovative, effective, and enduring solutions to our immigration problem.

A free screening of The Other Side of Immigration will take place Tuesday, July 20 at 7PM at the Renaissance Dupont Circle Hotel (1143 New Hampshire Ave. NW) in Washington DC. Germano will be present to discuss the film and answer questions after the screening.

Roy Germano directed, shot, edited and produced The Other Side of Immigration. The film won the Founders’ Award for “most original presentation of a current political issue” at Politics on Film 2009 and has been invited to screen at dozens of film festivals, universities, and conferences throughout the country since its premiere at the Las Vegas Film Festival in April 2009. Mr. Germano recently completed (and will soon defend) his Ph.D. thesis in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin, where he received the university’s top honor for a graduate student, the Michael H. Granof Outstanding Graduate Student Award. Mr. Germano has done extensive fieldwork throughout Mexico with support from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program and the National Science Foundation Political Science Program.


  1. Marco Verastegui says

    Where can I see this documentary? I missed the screening.