A much-needed examination of the collateral damage of illegal immigration, “Letters From the Other Side” gives voice to the women and children left behind — sometimes forever — when Mexican men cross the U.S. border looking for work. Sensitive treatment of an overlooked issue should make it resonate among a wide, and widely diverse, TV audience.
Documaker Heather Courtney was attracted to the story for two reasons: Her previous film “Los Trabajadores” (The Workers) concerned immigrant farm labor in the Southwest; and she was moved by the death in 2003 of 19 illegals who suffocated in a tractor trailer. Courtney’s question — what about the survivors? — is answered with overwhelming sadness. “Nobody leaves because they want to,” says one woman, and all the political noise about predatory immigrants and porous borders falls away like scales.
Using the technique seen in Carlos Bosch and Josep Maria Domenech’s 2002 Cuba-American docu “Balseros,” Courtney records the women — notably a wife and mother named Eugenia — and takes the tapes to the United States. She also tapes Eugenia’s husband and son, and brings the tapes back to Mexico. It’s a very effective and emotionally potent device, with the tears on both sides very real. Reality however, precludes easy answers.
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Two of the women — Carmela and Laura — lost their husbands in the May, 2003, tractor trailer tragedy, and, in one scene, Laura’s video letter is viewed by a functionary at the Bureau of Homeland Security. “How many more deaths does it take for the U.S. government to do something?” she asks.
Predictably, the bureaucrat has no answers. But it’s encouraging that Courtney is asking her questions.