STORY SUMMARY / SYNOPSIS
FOR A GROUP OF EXTRAORDINARY WOMEN WHO PRACTICE IMMIGRATION LAW, THE REFUGEE CRISIS IS A CALL TO ACTION THEY CAN'T IGNORE.
In 2019, we began pre-production of this important documentary film. With the rhetoric in Washington increasing to a fever pitch around the subject of refugees coming to the southern border, it was important for director Victoria Bruce to be a part of bringing a humanitarian face to the crisis.
After learning attorneys Rebecca Eichler and Charlene D’Cruz drove a VW bus to intercept 5000 migrants in central Mexico and offer legal advice in 2018, the protagonists for the documentary became clear. 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. 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.
The narrative of Las Abogadas centers around these brilliant women, all of whom gave us complete access to their lives and their practices. Among their clients, we have been given permission to film heartbreaking and heartwarming refugee stories as well.
Our protagonists include:
Rebecca Eichler, a retired attorney and first-generation American of Chinese and German descent currently living in central Mexico.
Charlene D’Cruz, who left India as a teenager to attend college in the U.S. and found she faced intense discrimination as a woman and immigrant, something that continues to this day.
Jodi Goodwin, a Texas-based mother of four who created the first sidewalk legal clinic as migrant families were bottlenecked in the blazing Mexican sun.
Mulu Alemayehu, an Ethiopian-American who came to the U.S. as a political refugee and fulfilled her dream of studying law to help others being persecuted.
While we were sidelined from location shooting during the pandemic, we still kept tabs on our characters and their journeys. We gathered footage they shot themselves as they reacted to the increasingly hostile laws and policies rolled out almost daily, and their own stress of living under quarantine.
The film begins with a flashback to when Charlene and Rebecca meet at the caravan, and follows them working together in the Matamoros refugee camp just as the global pandemic is about to shut everything down. We learn the story of Jodi Goodwin, an attorney known for her work reuniting separated families. We see her exhausted and near the breaking point as she counsels her clients on how to tell their story to the judges that will do everything they can to dismiss their asylum claims and send them back to certain death. We see Mulu Alemayehu head across the Tijuana border to give any legal help she can to African migrants stuck in a country where they have no support at all. We watch as the emotional toll on the women is almost insurmountable.
In their own narration, we hear how each woman came to do the work they do. With archival footage, we see their own personal stories of migration and their desire to give others the same opportunities.
We jump to 2020 as COVID-19 shuts down international borders, trapping the migrants in a political quagmire. Our four attorneys struggle to find ways to continue their quest to help one brave and anguished soul at a time. We watch the intimate struggles of a single mother from Guatemala and her two children living in a refugee camp, a near-blind Cuban woman who needs treatment before her sight is completely gone, and a group of Cameroonian refugees stuck after a year-long journey to escape a civil war in their country.
We follow Rebecca, Charlene, Jodi, and Mulu into the Fall of 2020. While the election brought a moment of relief and great joy for Charlene D’Cruz and Jodi Goodwin as they watched some of their clients finally be allowed into the United States, the tragedies continued. The new administration continued to shut out refugees, once again bottlenecking desperate men, women and children at the border, now with even fewer services, security, and support.
We continued to film our lawyers through 2021, as they navigated what was supposed to be a hopeful beginning, but in turn created even greater challenges than they could have imagined.