EL PASO – With a rosary dangling from her wrist and bible in hand, a mother and her 10-year-old son sit in a concealed compartment under a bus making its route from Mexico to the United States in hopes of being reunited with the child’s father.
For days, they endure the strain of possibly being discovered, and the physiological stress of a lack of hygienic, food ration troubles, and the mother’s critical diabetic condition.
This is the premise for the film, Smuggled, screened at University of Texas at El Paso by the Social Justice Initiative. The plot gives insight into the dangerous journey that many immigrants undergo despite fatal or legal risks. Director of The Social Justice Initiative, Arvind Singhal, said he brought the film to the campus because of its relevance to the border city.
“It makes sense when you are on the frontera that these things are meaningful,” he said. “The film is really based on a story from Mexico to the U.S. It is an engaging narrative about the human condition.”
Ramon Hamilton, the director of Smuggled, created the film under his production company ‘Think Ten Media Group’ to build compassion for people involved in matters hidden within politics.
“I think a lot of times we get blinded by the issues,” Hamilton said. “We ignore the people and what they are dealing with.”
The movie, which opens with a 10-year-old boy in an interrogation room with two officers, was inspired by a real undocumented immigrant who made a difficult journey to the United States from Colombia. Hamilton explained that before he was in film, he owned a construction company and one of his workers turned out to be undocumented.
“He came into the United States illegally in a Greyhound bus,” Hamilton said. “He was not hidden under the bus [like in the movie] but he was in the back of the bus. By the restroom there was a wall and an exterior wall—there is a little space between the two—so someone had removed that wall put him in there and sealed it.”
Hamilton described the man standing in a minuscule space unable to move for more than 24 hours as the bus made its way across the border. In Smuggled, a mother and son also sit in the smallest of spaces, in which many problems arise. The mother, who also is diabetic, remains positive and uplifting to her son, even in the midst of her worsening condition.
“One of the scenes that was interesting to write is the prayer,” Hamilton said. “They start praying in the bus and in her prayer she says ‘we are thankful for the food that we have.’ It is so interesting because they are in a box, they are eating bread and drinking water for multiple days—but they are grateful.”
Hamilton attributes this scene to his own Dominican Republic roots, and explained that his mother and grandmother were always turning to “la biblia,” a virtue he said is a common link in many Latin communities.
The film, which ends with the mother’s passing, expresses the sacrifices immigrants make for their children. With hundreds of migrant deaths every year, Hamilton said this was a way to make the movie genuine.
One of the most surprising scenes in the movie was where a police officer decides to let the boy free on his way to drop him off at Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“It was inspired by (a) real cop,” Hamilton said, “A deputy in the Sheriff’s Department in Los Angeles was our police consultant. He is the one that went through and made sure all the protocol was correct of what they would actually do.”
Hamilton said while not all officers would free the child, this particular deputy admitted he would.
“The cop was very honest and said he would let him go,” he said. “If you take him to ICE, he is going to spend months, if not up to a year in a youth detention center. They don’t know where his dad is. His mom is dead. He is going to exit one nightmare and go into another.”
From the viewer’s perspective, senior Maggie Johnson said she felt the film was incredibly impactful and powerful.
“As El Pasoans we know this issue,” she said. “There are people that are my friends that have crossed the border illegally. It’s really great that he is taking this movie from California to New York to other places and bring the awareness to a wider net of people.”
Smuggled, which circulated in 2012, has received several awards including Best Drama at the Mexico International Film Festival. It has also been featured in NBC Latino news, and Univision among others.