Las Abogadas: Attorneys on the Front Lines of the Migrant Crisis

For a group of extraordinary women who practice immigration law, the refugee crisis is a call to action they can't ignore.
by
Victoria Bruce (Director)
Rebecca Eichler (Subject Matter Producer)
Kristin Schrecker (Supervising Producer)
Year Released
2023
Film Length(s)
92 mins
Closed captioning available
Remote video URL

Introduction

The Trump administration tried to shut down immigration to the United States, and even with no changes to the actual law, they nearly succeeded. Things didn't get much better when Biden came into office. But activist lawyers — mostly women — made it their mission to defend people's legal right to seek safety and refuge under our asylum laws.

Featured review

The profiles in ‘Las Abogadas’ of the determined and tenacious women lawyers who put themselves squarely in the middle of the nightmare at our southern border are truly inspirational.
Hope Frye
Past President, American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA); Executive Director, Project Lifeline

Synopsis

Las Abogadas follows a group of women immigration attorneys over a multi-year odyssey as the U.S. government under President Trump upends every law meant to protect those fleeing from persecution, violence and war.

From setting up a legal clinic in a Volkswagen bus in the middle of 5,000 desperate migrants, to convincing border guards to follow the law and accept a blind woman into U.S. custody, to counseling African migrants stuck in Tijuana, to giving legal advice in the brutally hot Mexican sun to migrant families desperate to reach American soil — we watch our characters' surreal journeys to try and help.

Reviews

A 'powerful documentary' and 'masterpiece' that 'humanizes immigrants' and 'made me cry.'
Valkyrie International Film Festival
Nothing brings you behind the scenes of the immigration and asylum law chaos of the past several years as well as this intimate film.
Lenni Benson
Distinguished Chaired Professor of Immigration and Human Rights Law, New York Law School; Founder, Safe Passage Project
I was absolutely glued to the film.
Walter Turner
Host, Africa Today
It was gratifying and sobering to witness the courageous and persistent efforts of 'Las Abogadas' as they selflessly provided support, wise counsel, and tough love to immigrants and refugees who deserve fairer and more humane treatment at the U.S. border.
Kenneth Schlesinger
Associate Dean and Chief Librarian, Lehman College, City University of New York (CUNY)
[Las Abogadas] set up a legal clinic in a Volkswagen bus, but that's only the beginning of a journey uncovering layers of courage in the face of daunting trauma.
Maria de los Angeles
Heart-Centered Living
[These] courageous immigration lawyers are the front line defenders of American democracy!
Hon. Paul Wickham Schmidt
Adjunct Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center; Retired Immigration Judge; Former Chair of the Board of Immigration Appeals
What’s happening at the colonial borders is heartbreaking but the story captures hope and the small wins.
Tristin Greyeyes
Lead Programmer, Vancouver International Women in Film Festival
[Las Abogadas] has the audacity to bring us to the front lines of issues that are challenging the conscience of the world.
Raouf J. Jacob
Founder and Exec. Director of Worldwide Cinema Frames, LLC, sponsor of the Global CInema Film Festival of Boston, quoted by Abigail Lee, "Global Cinema Film Festival of Boston presents politically engaged documentaries for its eighth year," Boston Globe
The heart shown in this film, the advocacy, this is what underrepresented and marginalized communities need: people who believe in the work and are willing to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.
Pembroke Taparelli Film and Arts Festival
The film is a rollercoaster of emotions eloquently told through the eyes of these wonderful humanitarians.
Dances With Films Committee — New York
A documentary particularly well-received at the Guanajuato International Film Festival [in Mexico] ... was the award-winning 'Las Abogadas: Attorneys on the Front Lines of the Migrant Crisis,' directed by Victoria Bruce.
Ann Marie Jackson
"'Las Abogadas' shows the border through the eyes of 4 attorneys," Mexico News Daily
In January 2017, lawyers rushed to U.S. airports after the Trump administration blocked nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. Their efforts drew worldwide attention as they camped out in terminals and provided free legal help.

Much less publicized were the efforts of attorneys on the southern border, working with the thousands of migrants attempting to enter the United States amid shifting asylum laws. A new documentary film, 'Las Abogadas' ('The Lawyers'), shines a light on the efforts of four women immigration attorneys who provided legal services, guidance, advice, and compassion to migrants attempting to enter this country from Mexico during the Trump administration and into the Biden administration.
Les Machado
"Alexandria Lawyer Featured in Critically-Acclaimed Documentary Film," The Zebra
“Amid news of the chaos and countless human tragedies that defined the US-Mexico border scene during the Trump years, you could be forgiven for not thinking to ask how it felt to be an attorney on the front lines of the crisis. Indeed, the four women profiled in Victoria Bruce's powerful documentary barely stop to ask themselves. Charlene D'Cruz and Rebecca Eichler meet the migrant caravan with their own mobile lawyering out of Eichler's van; Mulu Alemayehu counsels online and in the refugee camps in Tijuana while Jodi Goodwin counsels on the sidewalk. All must be legal contortionists to find their way around the administration's ever-changing immigration laws. As viewers, we are rooting for them as much as for the asylum seekers we meet, individuals from Central America and Cameroon with harrowing stories that are at once typical and uniquely theirs. Out of border camps teeming with humanity come these individual humans, steeped in goodness. Let them in.”
Judy Bloch
Washington, D.C. International Film Festival

Awards and Screenings

WINNER: Best Documentary, LA Independent Women’s Film Awards (CA, USA-2022)
WINNER: Best Documentary, Awareness Film Festival (CA, USA-2022)
WINNER: Best Documentary, Pembroke Taparelli Arts and Film Festival (CA, USA-2022)
WINNER: Best Social Justice Documentary, Queen City Film Festival (MD, USA-2022)
WINNER: Best of Women’s Voices, Portland Film Festival (OR, USA-2022)
WINNER: Camera Eye International Mention Award, 6th International Women Filmmakers Festival (TURKEY-2022)
WINNER: Special Jury Award for Activist Filmmaking, Arizona International Film Festival (AZ, USA-2023)
WINNER: Best Documentary, ONE Country ONE Film – Apchat-Issoire International Festival (FRANCE-2023)
WINNER: Best Documentary, Vancouver International Women in Film (CANADA-2023)
WINNER: Best Feature, Vancouver International Women in Film (CANADA-2023)
WINNER: Best in Fest, Valkyrie International Film Festival (NY, USA-2023)
WINNER: Best Documentary Feature Film, Global Cinema Film Festival of Boston (MA, USA-2023)
WINNER: Best Director, Global Cinema Film Festival of Boston (MA, USA-2023)
WINNER: Best Documentary, Vail Film Festival (CO, USA-2023)
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Topanga Film Festival (CA, USA-2023)
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Atlantic City Film Fest (NJ, USA-2023)
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Festival del Cinema dei Diritti Umani di Napoli (ITALY-2023)
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Worldwide Women’s Film Festival (AZ, USA-2023)
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Annapolis Film Festival (MD, USA-2023)
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Washington, DC International Film Fest (DC, USA-2023)
OFFICIAL SELECTION: The Americas Film Festival (NY, USA-2023)
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Berkshire International Film Festival (MA, USA-2023)
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Nevada Women’s Film Festival (NV, USA-2023)
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Hot Springs International Film Festival (AK, USA-2023)
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Chennai International Documentary Film Festival (INDIA-2023)
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Guanajuato International Film Festival (MEXICO-2023)
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Al Jazeera Balkans Film Festival (BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA-2023)
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Teaneck International Film Festival (NJ, USA-2023)
OFFICIAL SELECTION: North Dakota Human Rights Film Festival (ND, USA-2023)
COMMUNITY SCREENING: Darkside Cinema of Corvallis (OR, USA-2022)
COMMUNITY SCREENING: Meyerson Jewish Community Center (NY, USA-2023)
COMMUNITY SCREENING: Community Resource Center (NY, USA-2023)
COMMUNITY SCREENING: Rivertown Film Society (NY, USA-2023)
COMMUNITY SCREENING: Desi Fest (OR, USA-2023)
COMMUNITY SCREENING: First Unitarian Church of Portland (OR, USA-2023)
COMMUNITY SCREENING: Cine Bancários, Porto Alegre (BRAZIL-2023)
COMMUNITY SCREENING: Bainbridge Island Art Museum (WA, USA-2023)
COMMUNITY SCREENINGS: Teatro Santa Ana, San Miguel de Allende (MEXICO-2023, 2024)
FUNDRAISING SCREENING: Priority Africa Network (CA, USA-2023)
FUNDRAISING SCREENINGS: Latin American Relief Fund (USA and MEXICO-2023, 2024)
CAMPUS SCREENING: Hofstra University School of Law (NY, USA-2023)
CAMPUS SCREENING: New York Law School, Annual Asylum and Immigration Law Conference (NY, USA-2023)
CAMPUS SCREENING: Duke University School of Law, Immigrant Rights Clinic (NC, USA-2023)
CAMPUS SCREENING: Lehman College, CUNY (NY, USA-2023)
CAMPUS SCREENING: Bryn Mawr College (PA, USA-2023)
CAMPUS SCREENING: University of Montana School of Law (MT, USA-2023)
CAMPUS SCREENING: Columbia University, Institute of Latin American Studies (NY, USA-2023)
CAMPUS SCREENING: Columbia University, Graduate School of Journalism (NY, USA - 2024)
HIGH SCHOOL SCREENING: E.L. Haynes Public Charter High School (DC, USA-2023)
HIGH SCHOOL SCREENING: Dunbar High School (DC, USA-2023)
HIGH SCHOOL SCREENING: Alexandria High School (VA, USA-2023)

Director Commentary

From Director Victoria Bruce:

After learning that attorneys Rebecca Eichler and Charlene D’Cruz drove a VW bus to intercept 5,000 migrants in central Mexico and offer legal advice in 2018, the protagonists for a new documentary became clear. With the rhetoric in Washington increasing to a fever pitch around the subject of refugees coming to the southern border, it was important for me to be a part of bringing a humanitarian face to the crisis.

By centering the film around brave women attorneys often working for non-profits or completely pro bono, we could show true modern-day heroes standing up to insurmountable odds. The narrative of Las Abogadas centers around these brilliant women, all of whom gave us access to their lives and their law practices. Women who were trained to use the law to protect the most vulnerable were having their tools systematically twisted, canceled, and pulled out from under their critical work. Among their clients, we were given permission to film heartbreaking and heartwarming refugee stories as well.

As a filmmaker, it’s important to understand a film’s subjects on an emotional level. I am of the same age and socioeconomic class as the women attorneys I follow in this film. A major purpose in making the film was to reach other people in my demographic and educate them about the true faces of migration. But I also want to inspire viewers to act, to tell others, to help create change. Many documentary films are driven by advocacy, and I believe the most successful are those with intimate and human stories told in simple and compelling ways.

Features and Languages

Film Features

  • Closed Captioning
  • Subtitles

Film/Audio Languages

  • English
  • French
  • Spanish
  • Amharic
  • Cameroonian Pidgin

Subtitle/Caption Languages

  • English

Promotional Material

Promotional Stills

Resources for Educators

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