Objection! (To Wearing Suits, Growing Up, and Immigration Law in TV and Film)

Objection! (To Wearing Suits, Growing Up, and Immigration Law in TV and Film)

Angelo Paparelli writes: "Today's post comes from the prolific keyboard of Nici Kersey, a friend and colleague whom I number among the best in I-9 and E-Verify compliance issues."

"One of the worst offenders is The Proposal, which boasts a cast including Sandra BullockRyan Reynolds, and Betty White.  What was the most unbelievable part of this movie?  The fact that I have now seen it twice, having apparently developed amnesia after the first go-round.  In this flick, Sandra Bullock’s character forces her assistant, who has dubbed her “Satan’s Mistress,” to marry her to avoid being deported after the application to renew her visa is denied. 

Let’s pretend for a moment that denial of the extension petition would cause deportation proceedings to begin right away (as The Proposal suggests).  What happens next is extraordinary:  the new couple (formed moments before) walks into the local USCIS office, cuts to the front of the line, and asks to file a fiancée visa petition.  It’s not possible to just walk into the USCIS office (you have to have an appointment, and you have to go through security, and then you have to wait, and wait, and wait).  It’s also kinda difficult (read: pretty much impossible) to file a fiancée visa petition while you’re in the U.S., and even more difficult to file pretty much anything in person. 

The two are immediately granted an interview with a USCIS officer.  [Objection!  Objection!  Objection!]  From there, the movie is similar to Green Card, in that the main characters fall for one another (though in this movie, the development of these new feelings is harder to believe than in Green Card).  Their newfound love develops after flying from NYC to Alaska, and the USCIS officer who interviewed themfollows them and attends their (impromptu) wedding.  Ah, yes – that’s how it’s done.  (Cough.) ...

One movie that seems to get it right is The Visitor.  If you haven’t seen it, you should.  A professor (Richard Jenkins) who keeps, but apparently rarely uses, an apartment in NYC comes into the city to find the apartment occupied by a couple who have rented it from some sort of con man.  He decides to share the space with them rather than evict them.  Once you accept that, the rest of the movie is pretty faithful to the immigration system, as one half of the couple is arrested, then detained by immigration, at which point he more-or-less disappears into the system, being moved from one facility to another without warning, then deported without notice to his family.  This is a lovely, quiet movie about the emotional toll that the system can take. 

But The Visitor is the exception to the rule, which seems to be that movies and TV shows must use immigration law badly and only as a device or an obstacle.  

Why do TV shows and movies do this?  It could be because the writers don’t know better and no one thinks to ask an attorney (or someone who has actually won the green card lottery), but it’s probably because it is rare for real immigration law to translate into good entertainment:  it’s slow, and it’s technical." - Nici Kersey, July 21, 2013.