Sundance Poised for Dreamers-ICE Showdown at Doc Premiere

Brigade
Mohammad Abdollahi features in the documentary 'The Infiltrators.'

“I welcome any retaliation by the Trump Administration,” says Mohammad Abdollahi, an undocumented immigrant who will attend the world premiere of the film 'The Infiltrators,' in which he appears.

Is Sundance poised for ICE to crash its Park City party?

When the documentary/narrative hybrid The Infiltrators makes its world premiere Jan. 25 at the Library Center Theatre, at least two self-described Dreamers who are featured in the film plan to be on hand and are taunting Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to meet them there.

“I welcome any retaliation by the Trump Administration,” says Mohammad Abdollahi, an undocumented immigrant from Iran. “We've come to understand that the more out there in the open we are, the safer we are. If I were to get detained by immigration, I would rather be a phone call away from a large community of people than to be in the shadows and have no one to support me. So, while it's always a risk, I think it's a risk that we have to take.”

Abdollahi, 32, is a member of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, which infiltrated an immigration detention center in Florida during the Obama Administration and uncovered a complex for-profit institution housing hundreds of multinational immigrants. The group’s true story serves as the basis for the film, which is playing in Sundance’s NEXT section and is being sold by Paradigm. Abdollahi, who has been an immigration advocate for 10 years, is driving to Utah with Viridiana Martinez, 32, another real-life undocumented Dreamer portrayed in the film directed by documentarian Cristina Ibarra (making her Sundance debut) and Alex Rivera (whose Sleep Dealer screened at the 2008 festival). Abdollahi and Martinez are risking their ability to remain in the United States in order to attend the festival.

By contrast, Claudio Rojas, also portrayed in the film as a man picked up by ICE in 2010 and held at the Broward Transitional Center, won’t be attending, nor will Marco Saavedra, whose self-deportation in order to gain access to the detention center and help Rojas is depicted in the film. The pair are skipping the premiere out of fear of deportation (Rojas is legally permitted to travel only within the state of Florida, while Saavedra is currently undergoing deportation proceedings).

The filmmakers have received no assurances from the Robert Redford-founded festival in the event that ICE shows up. Sundance declined to comment.

“ICE seems to be pretty occupied these days with kidnapping children and terrorizing parents seeking refuge at the border,” says Rivera. “However, if they did make an appearance in Park City, I would follow the leadership of the undocumented community who’s been facing these kinds of threats for decades now.”

In fact, Abdollahi, who first experienced the challenges of being undocumented when he was told “I would have to get in some kind of line” before he could attend Eastern Michigan University due to his status, says the biggest misconception about immigration is that injustices are something new.

“I think the mind-set that the Trump Administration is worse on immigration is very harmful,” he says. “I remember in 2009-10 when President Obama was deporting thousands of young people just like myself, and we had to fight tooth and nail in order to get ourselves protected. And all of the worst policies that exist to this day came about during the Clinton Administration. Trump is just building a monster of a system on the foundation that was built by Democrats.”

Martinez, who also spent time in Broward Transitional Center, says the film exposes “the hypocrisy of an administration that smiled to our faces while locking up our friends and family.” She says she and fellow NIYA members could have tweeted or blogged about the inequalities, the strategy du jour among activists. “Instead we turned ourselves in. We put our bodies on the line and in doing so embodied the concept of inalienable rights of all human beings, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” she says. “There’s no turning back now.”

Abdollahi hopes that he and Martinez can get some face time with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has called for the abolition of ICE and will attend the Jan. 27 premiere of Knock Down the House, during the festival.

“That would be our dream,” he says.

In the meantime, they are sticking to philosophy of "we're here, we're undocumented, we're unafraid."

“We are using ourselves as an example for the general undocumented community to know how safe they can be if they actually stand up for what they believe in and are prepared to fight back,” he says. “Nobody wins by running.”