The Stories From Room 140
Jul 12, 2019
Priscilla Gonzalez Sainz
Many undocumented immigrants who are released from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers have nowhere to go. When this happens near Oakland, California, Pastor Gomez gets notified through the small community of Guatemalan immigrants that has formed around the church that he leads. Gomez, who moonlights as a local motel manager, rents a room for the migrants at the motel at his own expense. There, they are given at least one night of comfortable rest before continuing their transition.
“When they get here, I tell them to forget the past—all the suffering along the journey,” says Gomez in Priscilla Gonzalez Sainz’s short documentary Room 140.
In the film, asylum seekers spending the night at the motel share what they endured before and after turning themselves in at the United States’ border with Mexico. Their stories are chilling.
One man says he and his son were beaten in Mexican immigration: “They kicked [my son] in the chest. He fell and almost died.”
A mother describes how her young daughter has exhibited signs of depression since the two were reunited from being separated in different ICE detention centers. “She won’t eat or sleep,” says the mother. “She’s not the same. Maybe she got traumatized. Now she hits me, like it’s my fault.”
The filmmaker told me that she observed commonalities in the interviewees’ reasons for leaving Guatemala. Many said they were escaping gang violence and threats. Others couldn’t earn a living for their families. Still others sought refuge from social persecution of indigenous people by white Guatemalans. Most people she spoke with had crossed Mexico by foot.
“I was shocked by what they told me about the way they were treated by border agents—on both sides—and the conditions they endured in detention or jail,” Gonzalez Sainz said. “Amidst everything they were going through, it was a brave act for them to tell their stories.”
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Author: Emily Buder
About This Series
A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.