From separating families at the border to promises to build a massive wall between the US and Mexico, the Trump administration took an aggressively hostile approach towards immigrants. 

It was these policies that inspired directors Betsy Hershey and Emma Wall to make the documentary Guerrilla Habeas, which focuses on the immigrant families whose lives were torn apart by these laws and the intrepid lawyers and activists who fought to protect them.

RELATED: Contenders Documentary — Deadline’s Complete Coverage

Speaking at Deadline’s Contenders Documentary panel, Wall revealed why they felt called to make this movie.

“We started on this film at a time when I think so many of us were really appalled by what was happening in the immigration system,” she said. “So we started this in the beginning of 2019, following the Muslim ban, following Trump’s zero-tolerance policy that was separating families at the border. And we — as so many people, I think, in this country — were feeling incredibly helpless and hopeless. It felt like these grave injustices, these human rights violations, and we didn’t know what to do about it.”

While making Guerrilla Habeas, the filmmakers quickly realized that they needed to consider not just the story they were trying to tell but also how to protect the people who were helping them tell it. 

Wall told Deadline’s documentary editor Matthew Carey, During those years in the Trump administration, lots of activists in the non-citizen community, people participating in films were being targeted and were being deported for their involvement, and so we wanted to be really careful in terms of how we told this story because it’s a difficult one to share.”

While it was the needless cruelty of the Trump administration’s immigration policies that first inspired them to direct the film, co-director Hershey added that many of those policies have remained in effect with the Biden presidency.

I think the important issue to remember is that this didn’t go away when Trump went away, and the system remains,” she said. “The system that is allowing what’s happening in this film remains. So until we fix the underlying issues, it’s not going to matter who is in charge of the government because what we need is to keep families together in a system that is going to ensure everyone’s safety.”

Check back Wednesday for the panel video.


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