Wentworth, NC - On Oct. 10, El Cambio, a North Carolina-based immigrant rights group, led 60 activists in challenging a racist ‘documentary’ shown at Rockingham Community College. The coalition included undocumented immigrants, Occupy Wall Street activists, students and immigration lawyers such as Marty Rosenbluth, executive director/attorney at North Carolina Immigrant Rights Project and Ann Marie Dooley of the North Carolina Immigration Law Division.
The Rockingham County sheriff’s office hosted the film, They Come to America: The Cost of Illegal Immigration. The sheriff claims it is a non-partisan film providing a venue for open discussion from both sides regarding the topic of immigration. El Cambio and their supporters decided to put these claims to the test.
El Cambio watched the film and found it not only attacked undocumented immigrants, but immigration in general. The propaganda film included an attack on Muslims in the U.S. as well. It claimed that anyone with a Qur’an or prayer rug was not only an immigrant, but also a terrorist. Three-quarters of the way through, the director of the film, Dennis Lynch, revealed his argument - that if the U.S. allows immigration to continue, then America will be under threat for another 9/11.
After sitting through an hour and a half of the film, El Cambio and their supporters said enough was enough, and walked out of the auditorium, into the hallways of Rockingham Community College. What began then was a storm of angry debate and confrontation with the sheriff’s racist supporters.
“How can portraying us as murderers,” said Giovanna Vargas of the Yadkin County El Cambio chapter, “possibly help people support comprehensive immigration reform? It creates a stigma of stereotypes and racism that prevents people from supporting immigration.”
Moises Serrano, another activist for the Yadkin County El Cambio chapter, furthered this concern, stating, “This ‘documentary’ places a barrier with the community that we are trying to reach out to, by drawing the link between murderers, criminals, and rapists to our immigrant communities. It purposely defeats our goals of trying to educate the community before we can even have the first word. We are being silenced and dehumanized when we have other people and other propaganda tell our stories without them ever letting us share our own.”
A few of those who supported the film’s vile claims came out and engaged the activists, relaying sound bites from the film itself. Rockingham County Commissioner James Kallam went so far as to verbally threaten Moises Serrano, asking him if he’d like to volunteer in being a shooting target in order to achieve his quota of killing three people in the county. Commissioner Kallam has since retracted his statement, claiming it to be a ‘joke.’ Few are laughing.
Overwhelmed by the show of opposition to the film, Sheriff Sam Page asked everyone to leave the crowded hallways. El Cambio continued the demonstration outside.
In front of the building, El Cambio dedicated the day, Columbus Day, to the indigenous communities by chanting, “They come to America - they who? Christopher Columbus was undocumented too!” This was a direct response to the film Director’s claim, “[Immigrants] are not here to cut your grass or mow your lawn, they are here to cut your throat.”
“We made history in Rockingham County,” said Moises Serrano. “No one had ever stood up to racism, hatred, or xenophobia in that county. So our win was more symbolic. Now they know that we will not sit idly by and let our communities be attacked in any way, shape, or form. We had an undocumented student who came out of the shadows for the very first time. If we empowered someone to do that then our job was done.”
Moises shed light on what was next for the group. “El Cambio’s next step is In-State Tuition Equality for undocumented students and to use our platform to push heavily for our goal in 2013. With such great friends and allies El Cambio now has in the movement, I know that if we work hard enough we will be able to see undocumented youth go to college at an in-state tuition rate.”