EXCLUSIVE: We have your first look at Guerrilla Habeas, a powerful documentary premiering on MSNBC next year that humanizes immigrant families caught up in deportation proceedings.
The short film directed by Betsy Hershey and Emma Wall held its world premiere last September at the Telluride Film Festival. It focuses on the work of two lawyers for the Rapid Defense Network – Sarah Gillman and Gregory Copeland – who are using innovative means to win the release of immigrants facing immediate removal from the country.
“Guerrilla Habeas explores the pervasive lack of representation in our immigration courts, the liberties violated by this system, and the lives and families being torn apart from deportations,” according to a release from MSNBC. “This searing documentary lays bare the shortage of legal representation for immigrants desperately attempting to navigate a complicated, overburdened and broken system.”
Attorneys Gillman and Copeland argue immigration law enforcement is characterized by “rampant and illegal deportations,” and that American immigration law itself is fundamentally racist in nature (citing, for instance, the Chinese Exclusion Act, in force from 1882 to 1943, which barred Chinese people, with few exceptions, from entering the United States).
Guerrilla Habeas is part of MSNBC’s documentary series The Turning Point, in partnership with executive producer Trevor Noah, which “highlights a range of hot button issues affecting the world” along with producers TIME Studios, Noah’s Day Zero Productions, Sugar23, and Mainstay. The film will premiere on MSNBC in 2023, but no precise airdate has been announced.
“Immigration and displacement are at historic levels due to war, conflict and climate disasters,” directors Hershey and Wall said in a statement. “We felt compelled to share the story of how the global immigration crisis is tearing families apart here in the United States, and how two relentless lawyers are using extraordinary legal strategies to keep families together. Parent-child separation is a humanitarian crisis that is so often caused by regressive immigration policies and unfair justice mechanisms. We hope that through this film, audiences can judge for themselves how these policies affect children and families. We couldn’t be more enthusiastic about partnering with MSNBC to share our participants’ remarkable and urgent stories of love and determination.”
“At MSNBC Films we think it is important to focus on the humanity behind all the hot button issues,” said Amanda Spain, VP of longform acquisitions at MSNBC Films. “The stories of those who immigrate here need to be told, not just in a political way but in a personal one. That is what Betsy and Emma’s film does so well. They let us into the lives of those fighting to stay here and the tireless work of their lawyers ensuring they won’t be separated from the people and country they love.”
Among the cases highlighted in the documentary is that of Baba Sillah, a native of Gambia living in New York City for 26 years, who was within minutes of being deported back to Gambia before Gillman, Copeland and the Rapid Defense Network intervened. The ostensible reason for his deportation was prior convictions for petty offenses like “unlicensed vending” – in other words, selling items on the street. The deportation threatened to separate him from his wife and five children.
In the exclusive clip above, one of Sillah’s young daughters appears at a news conference to speak about her father.