A Waiting Room to Nowhere

A Waiting Room to Nowhere

Childhood Interrupted at Our Southern Border
February 18, 2024
Season 12
Featuring:
Robert Bilheimer
2019 Recipient, Mother Theresa Memorial Award for Social Justice; Academy award nominated documentary filmmaker

As a nation of immigrants, what is our responsibility to the thousands of forcibly displaced children women and men on our southern border?

Moderated by: Evan Dawson

We are at a dangerous point in the history of democracy when hundreds of thousands of forced migrants and asylum seekers are dehumanized, and denied the safety they seek, simply because our elected leaders have neither the courage nor the wisdom to address immigration reform. It is a shame, and it is shameful.

As a nation of immigrants, what is our responsibility to the thousands of children, women and men at our southern border?

Poverty, gang extortion and violence, human trafficking, corrupt governments, climate change and war have left these people no option but to leave their homeland. Often the only thing they carry, besides a few belongings stuffed into a backpack, is their hope for a better life in America. That, and the courage and determination that it takes to make the journey of thousands of miles, mostly on foot, and always with the threat of robbery, rape, kidnapping and extortion following them through a brutal landscape.

And when they reach the U.S.-Mexico border? They wait. And wait. For months, and often for over a year. In camps with too little food and fresh water, poor sanitation, inadequate shelter from the weather, few opportunities to earn even a little money, and the ever-present threat of extortion and violence as gangs prey on the vulnerable.

Filmmaker Bob Bilheimer spent months between 2021 and 2023 in the Rio Grande Valley, filming in Matamoros, Reynosa, and Jurárez, Mexico, visiting shelters and camps, and interviewing social workers, full-time volunteers, nuns, activists, pastors, psychologists, and the families themselves. His film, Running To Stand Still: Migrants Search For Hope In The Promised Land, focuses in particular on the lives of the children – the innocent victims of the myriad forces that have chased them from home, and then trapped them in “a waiting room to nowhere.”

Ours is a country literally built by immigrants, whose historical entry place welcomes migrants with Lady Liberty declaring, “Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/ The wretched refuse of your tired shore/ Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me/ I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” How did we become a nation that forces the huddled masses to return to poverty, violence and hopelessness, instead of providing a refuge and a future? What will it take to regain the humanity on which this nation was created?

In this Forum event, we will view the film trailer for Running To Stand Still and Bilheimer’s previous short film Oh Mercy, also on the border situation, prior to the discussion, setting the stage for our conversation with Bob Bilheimer. Bob will share not only his observations of the conditions in the immigrant camps in this particular crisis, but also his experience in the use of filmmaking as a tool for social justice.

Joining Bob at the Forum are two experts who will also appear in Running to Stand Still and lend their perspectives to this important topic: Pastor Abraham Barberi, the director of One Mission Ministries, a nonprofit ministry in Matamoros, Mexico that cares for thousands of immigrants seeking asylum at the U.S./Mexico border; and Jesús de la Torre, a research fellow at Hope Border Institute focused on the root causes of forced migration, and the impact of border externalization policies have on the rights of migrants and asylum seekers.

Moderated by: Evan Dawson

We are at a dangerous point in the history of democracy when hundreds of thousands of forced migrants and asylum seekers are dehumanized, and denied the safety they seek, simply because our elected leaders have neither the courage nor the wisdom to address immigration reform. It is a shame, and it is shameful.

As a nation of immigrants, what is our responsibility to the thousands of children, women and men at our southern border?

Poverty, gang extortion and violence, human trafficking, corrupt governments, climate change and war have left these people no option but to leave their homeland. Often the only thing they carry, besides a few belongings stuffed into a backpack, is their hope for a better life in America. That, and the courage and determination that it takes to make the journey of thousands of miles, mostly on foot, and always with the threat of robbery, rape, kidnapping and extortion following them through a brutal landscape.

And when they reach the U.S.-Mexico border? They wait. And wait. For months, and often for over a year. In camps with too little food and fresh water, poor sanitation, inadequate shelter from the weather, few opportunities to earn even a little money, and the ever-present threat of extortion and violence as gangs prey on the vulnerable.

Filmmaker Bob Bilheimer spent months between 2021 and 2023 in the Rio Grande Valley, filming in Matamoros, Reynosa, and Jurárez, Mexico, visiting shelters and camps, and interviewing social workers, full-time volunteers, nuns, activists, pastors, psychologists, and the families themselves. His film, Running To Stand Still: Migrants Search For Hope In The Promised Land, focuses in particular on the lives of the children – the innocent victims of the myriad forces that have chased them from home, and then trapped them in “a waiting room to nowhere.”

Ours is a country literally built by immigrants, whose historical entry place welcomes migrants with Lady Liberty declaring, “Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/ The wretched refuse of your tired shore/ Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me/ I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” How did we become a nation that forces the huddled masses to return to poverty, violence and hopelessness, instead of providing a refuge and a future? What will it take to regain the humanity on which this nation was created?

In this Forum event, we will view the film trailer for Running To Stand Still and Bilheimer’s previous short film Oh Mercy, also on the border situation, prior to the discussion, setting the stage for our conversation with Bob Bilheimer. Bob will share not only his observations of the conditions in the immigrant camps in this particular crisis, but also his experience in the use of filmmaking as a tool for social justice.

Joining Bob at the Forum are two experts who will also appear in Running to Stand Still and lend their perspectives to this important topic: Pastor Abraham Barberi, the director of One Mission Ministries, a nonprofit ministry in Matamoros, Mexico that cares for thousands of immigrants seeking asylum at the U.S./Mexico border; and Jesús de la Torre, a research fellow at Hope Border Institute focused on the root causes of forced migration, and the impact of border externalization policies have on the rights of migrants and asylum seekers.

About Robert Bilheimer:

Robert Bilheimer, President of the non-profit company Worldwide Documentaries, is widely regarded as one of the most influential documentary filmmakers working in the world today. Early in his career he was nominated for an Academy Award for Cry of Reason, a feature-length documentary that profiles the pioneering South African anti-apartheid leader Beyers Naude. Since then, he has made carefully crafted films that focus on a wide range of social, cultural, and humanitarian issues.

These films include A Closer Walk, about the global AIDS epidemic, and Not My Life, about human trafficking. Writing about A Closer Walk in a cover story for USA today, Steve Sternberg called the film “a defining moment” in the battle against AIDS. Mike McCarthy, the Senior Producer of CNN International’s Freedom Project, which aired Not My Life in 2011, called the film “a seminal work.”

Among his many honors and awards over the years, in 2019, Robert received India’s prestigious Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice for Not My Life, which specifically focuses on the vulnerability of children to global human trafficking, and the ensuing trauma these children endure—a key theme and concern of his current project, Running To Stand Still.

Throughout his career, Robert’s films have attracted an international audience. They have been seen on television; streamed on social media platforms; and distributed at the grassroots level in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, India, Europe, Scandinavia, South Africa and China. On June 29, 2014, a prime time broadcast of Not My Life on Doordarshan, India’s public television network, was watched by 462 million people around the world.

To learn more about Robert Bilheimer: