As news develops on the detention of immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas, the director of the award-winning documentary film Documented, Miami might soon have a second opportunity to see his film. Local immigration attorney Joseph Lackey has booked the encore screening of the film, and has positive a perspective on the undocumented Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist's recent detention.
Vargas was visiting undocumented immigrant children at a shelter in McAllen, Texas, a few weeks ago when he was detained. On July 15, U.S. Border Patrol agents took him into custody at McAllen-Miller International Airport in Texas. Speaking via phone, Lackey says Vargas' detention could actually work out in his favor.
As someone who has successfully won permission for immigrants to stay in the U.S. after they had been detained, Lackey says Vargas' notice to appear before an immigration judge could mean the filmmaker may get the papers needed to finally reside in the U.S. at least semi-legally. Lackey says, "By putting him in removal proceedings, the Department of Homeland Security can take him out of removal proceedings and give him a work permit through a vehicle called prosecutorial discretion."
Prosecutorial discretion means those imposing charges against someone like Vargas could simply decide not to pursue the case in favor of more high-priority subjects like those detained who have dangerous criminal backgrounds. "DHS has limited funds, limited resources. They want to focus on aliens who have serious and violent criminal histories and deport those people, as opposed to, you know, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist," explains Lackey. "Once he's in [deportation proceedings], he can be taken out, and once he's taken out of the deportation proceedings he can be given a work permit, a driver's license, and he can get some sort of quasi status in this country."
As revealed in Documented, Vargas entered the U.S. illegally as a child, smuggled from the Philippines to his grandparents in California. "He overstayed when he was little," notes Lackey. "He was just a tourist visa overstay." But his grandfather arranged for a fake greencard, which Vargas would use to eventually get work as a journalist, until guilt got to him, and he turned his illegal status as badge of activism, which is documented in his film.
Lackey wishes to host a screening of Documented in hopes of educating Miami about the larger problem of immigration. He said the city has long been divided about it, and it's not just about those on one side of the debate and those on the other. There are divides within the immigration community itself. Also known as a major gateway to the Americas, Miami features people from an array of countries, some of which even have different exceptions for immigration. Lackey says dialogue across these groups is key. "I mean, you know South Florida," says Lackey. "It's divided. The Cubans don't like the Mexicans, and the Mexicans are afraid to talk to them, and the white people are afraid of everybody, so the more people that know about this the better off everyone is."
He wants the discussion started by this film to spread beyond the theater. "We want to get more people than we have there talk to more people, and they can talk to more people."
He already has Vargas behind the screening. "He sanctioned this event," says Lackey. "He even sent us a clip specific to Miami, specific to this screening that we're doing."
But the attorney also hopes to have Vargas, who, as revealed in the film, is a powerful speaker, present for the screening. Some of it might depend on whether he gets prosecutorial discretion. But Lackey remains very optimistic that this detention will work in favor of Vargas, who in the film struggles with obstacle after obstacle as immigration reform continues to fall short of his favor.
"I think it will turn out all right for him," says Lackey. "All of the positive factors for desirability, he has them in spades. I mean, for God's sake, what do you want? Two Pulitzers? I think one is good enough. But I've gotten prosecutorial discretion much, much less. Basically a long time here and the lack of any criminal history is a good starting point. You need to show a little more than that, but there's no way Jose Antonio Vargas is not going to get prosecutorial discretion. At that point his file will be put on standby until Congress actually legislates comprehensive immigration reform."
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Lackey still needs a certain number of committed audience members to reserve tickets to have the screening at AMC Sunset Place to begin with. Visit the event page for tickets to attend Lackey's Documented encore screening, scheduled for Monday, August 25, at 7:30 p.m.
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @HansMorgenstern.