The conversation over undocumented immigration is often tied to a frightening vision of drug runners with sinewy, cantaloupe-like leg muscles on the southern border. In reality, these people are much less scary and more viscerally tied with the lives of U.S. citizens.
Millions of undocumented immigrants have long lived their lives “in the shadows” by doing their best to live a life unworthy of law enforcement attention, so stories about them often allow a kind of anonymity that obscures their names and faces. That mostly changed last week with an innovative retelling of an immigrant family’s journey in Cincinnati, Ohio through a comic journal and companion documentary by journalists Kevin Necessary and Breanna Molloy.
In a three-part series and accompanying documentary, Necessary and Molloy followed a U.S. citizen named Adriana who relives her undocumented mother’s journey in the United States. The piece begins with a teenage Adriana, who used a pseudonym for the series, going to the Department of Motor Vehicles in Ohio and encountering a worker who harshly asks her for her mother’s immigration status. As her mother’s undocumented status is revealed, the story unfolds to reveal how and why her mother came to the United States. By the end of the story, the family continues to live in a state of uncertainty in large part because they don’t know how the Trump administration’s harsh immigration policies could affect them moving forward.
What’s particularly interesting about Necessary’s comics is the ability to put a face — even an animated one — onto such a charged issue. His attention to detail also shines. Adriana and her family age as the series progresses.
The comic series brings a refreshing new way to inform people about the immigration debate, particularly well-formatted for television.
“We work at a news station so we’re always bringing the television side in,” Necessary explained to ThinkProgress in a phone interview last week.
Since he took office, President Donald Trump has authorized policies and executive orders to detain undocumented immigrants regardless of the positive equities they’ve contributed to their communities. He’s also broadly claimed that some immigrants are criminals, drug dealers, and terrorists.
Some immigrants who have spoken out against Trump’s policies have been arrested and sometimes released. As a result, it has been difficult for journalists to find immigrants willing to risk deportation to talk about their lives under this administration. In their comic journal, Necessary and Molloy found that the comic medium has allowed them to simultaneously grant anonymity and present a full story for their readers.
“The reason I did the story was because it was something, details I never heard of,” Necessary told ThinkProgress in a phone interview this week. “Whether you agree with undocumented immigration or not — wherever you fall on that — these are details that I think usually get lost in the broader arguments and debate.”
About 95,000 total undocumented immigrants live in Ohio as of 2016, so it may be understandable that people in the state may think of deportations as a one-off situation and not necessarily an issue that impacts their daily lives. Yet many mixed-status immigrant families like Adriana’s — where a U.S. citizen lives with immigrants who may face deportation — survive in Ohio, sometimes in circumstances far more dire than her family.
President Donald Trump’s deportation policies have affected many Ohioan families. Last year, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency deported to Mexico an Elyria father of a disabled child, despite public pressure calling for a stay of removal. The federal government also deported a Palestinian immigrant who lived in Youngstown in the United States for 40 years. A Democratic lawmaker filed a private bill on his behalf to no avail. The federal immigration agency also deported an immigrant mom from Painesville stopped for a routine traffic citation.
“I did it for the people of Cincinnati to see who some of their neighbors were,” Necessary said. “I wanted to show [that] these were people who were not cardboard caricatures that they can sometimes be made out to be by various politicians and media. These are people who go to school next to you or work next to you or are in line applying for their driver’s license.”