‘They Come to America,’ for better – or worse

Filmmaker Dennis Michael Lynch attempts to scale a fence on the Arizona-Mexico border during the shooting of his documentary “They Come to America.” Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Dennis Lynch/TV360 Films

Filmmaker Dennis Michael Lynch attempts to scale a fence on the Arizona-Mexico border during the shooting of his documentary “They Come to America.”

It’s too bad that “They Come to America” will show for only two days at the Back Space Theatre while “Friends with Kids” gets a whole week.

Dennis Michael Lynch, the film’s writer, director and producer, has done what few documentarians ever successfully pull off, despite their best intentions. His film is a genuinely unbiased, balanced and in-depth look at one of the most divisive issues in the United States: illegal immigration.

Lynch straddles the fence to show both sides of the immigration issue. Are illegal immigrants the scourge of American workers and taxpayers, driving down wages and siphoning off benefits that should be reserved for U.S. citizens? Or are they no different from the ancestors of almost every American, arriving in the land of opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families while filling a void in the labor force to boot?

The answer, in the real world and in Lynch’s film, is yes to both. And by the end of “They Come to America,” there is little doubt in any reasonable viewer’s mind that there will ever be a reasonable solution to the debate.

Unlike many who argue the immigration issue from bar stools and political pulpits, Lynch tells the story from the front lines. He interviewed scores of undocumented workers in several large U.S. cities and also went south of the border to see firsthand the conditions that spur such people to make the harrowing journey north. That part of the project almost cost him his life after a run-in with a Mexican drug gang, but such is the stuff of courageous filmmaking. On this side of the border, Lynch found plenty of law-abiding U.S. citizens who rely on immigrant labor for their own existence.

For every pro Lynch finds a con, and his arguments against illegal immigration are as convincing as those he finds for it. We meet a contractor who blames immigrants exclusively for his unemployment. We hear from government officials how many hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes are lost each year and how many more millions are spent on governmental services for non-U.S. citizens. When it comes to the criminal element,Lynch is unflinching and never tiptoes around the issue of race; not all illegal immigrants come to America with the intention of making an honest living.

The term “must-see film” is so overused I hesitate to dredge it up again, but “They Come to America” is worthy of the label. Immigration is an issue that affects every one of us. When both sides are right and both sides are wrong, all that remains is for reasonable people to continue the discussion. Lynch has given us a lot to talk about.