The State of Arizona Documentary Film


Premieres Monday, January 27, 2014 on PBS’s Independent Lens, 10/9c

It wasn’t soon after SB1070 passed in April 2010 that I got a phone call from a distraught Director of Human Resources. One of her highly-skilled senior engineers, a multinational manager from Southeast Asia, had been stopped, for no apparent reason, on his way to work.

Though the aggressive questioning and harassment to show his “papers” left him terrified, the engineer managed to talk his way out of the lengthy roadside detention. His non-Hispanic English accent, white-collar attire and a small-print reference in his passport to his employer - a global company the police officer had heard of – helped save him. But to this day I remember him exclaiming that he couldn’t believe that such an incident would happen in America. He said he was used to warrantless, bullying harassment by the police in his native country, but like many foreign nationals, he held high esteem for the rule of law in his newly adopted home.

A new documentary film,The State of Arizona, chronicles SB1070’s history and fallout from those early days of fear and shock among immigrants, particularly among the Latino community, to the Supreme Court’s pronouncement of the constitutionality of its most controversial provision, known as “papers please,” in 2012. The 90 minute film is built around a colorful cast of characters whose stories represent many sides of the politically divisive issue. As expected, one of the most loved and hated people – Sherriff Joe Arpaio – is a prominent figure in the film, but other Arizonians, whose more moderate voices are rarely broadcast by the media, are heard frustratingly expressing, “I don’t know what the answer is” and “We can’t just throw them out.” The core group who shape the film’s message include a galvanized grandmother, a cattle rancher, state Senators and Representatives, newly empowered Tea Party leaders, immigrant rights’ activists and an undocumented ice cream truck owner and his American-born son.

In a video interview with “The Huffington Post,” the directors of the film, Carlos Sandoval and Catherine Tambini, explain that one of the motivations to make the film was the law’s potential for institutional racial profiling and its state-sanctioned criminality of undocumented immigrants. Despite their critical position of these aspects of the law, they hope the film portrays a nuanced discussion of various issues surrounding SB1070, including the broader political circumstances that created the social and economic situation in Arizona that led to the passage of the law.

It is through this deeper engagement with the broader policies and economics underlying SB1070 that the film can encourage a more enlightened national conversation about immigration reform. The filmmakers want viewers to ask: how should we, as a civil society that believes in the rule of law, handle the challenge of the 11 million undocumented people living in the United States? They believe “The State of Arizona” holds a mirror, and asks Americans who they are and who they want to be.

About The Author

Ashima Duggal is an immigration attorney turned writer and documentary filmmaker.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.