These women are helping reunite families separated at the border

A new Netflix documentary explores how one woman's mission to reunite a migrant family snowballed into a larger effort.
Posted at 8:36 PM, Mar 09, 2023

In the new Netflix documentary "Split at the Root," a group of women come together to do what the U.S. government couldn't or wouldn't do: reunite migrant families separated by the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy. 

The inspiring story starts in 2018 with one New York City woman, Julie Schwietert Collazo, who hears on NPR that a migrant detained in Arizona can't afford her bond and therefore cannot reunite with her kids in New York.

"What was really intended to be a project to release one mom and get her back with her kids caught momentum so quickly and hasn't stopped since," Schwietert Collazo said in the the film.

Schwietert Collazo is the co-founder of Immigrant Families Together, a grassroots organization that has reunited more than 130 families.

Scripps News spoke with Schwietert Collazo alongside the director of the documentary, Linda Goldstein Knowlton.

SCRIPPS NEWS' BEN SCHAMISSO: The film highlights the plight of two mothers in particular, Yeni Gonzalez and Rosayra Pablo Cruz. Tell us briefly what role Immigrant Families Together played in helping them reunite with their children.

JULIE SCHWIETERT COLLAZO: We began fundraising using the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe for Yeni after hearing about her case on the radio and speaking with her attorney and getting his content, as well as her consent, to raise money for her bond. And as we say in the film, Yeni is really central to everything that follows... because when she came out of detention, she had the names and alien numbers and names of children of the mothers who had been detained with her.

SCHAMISSO: How do you both feel about the documentary coming out today, years after the zero tolerance policy was first enacted?

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LINDA GOLDSTEIN KNOWLTON : We very much wanted to get the film out as soon as possible to really connect with the zero tolerance policy, and it didn't happen because of COVID and any number of reasons. Also because our collaborators, our protagonists, their stories were continuing in a way that really was an important part of continuing to tell the story. 

SCHWIETERT COLLAZO: And I think that one of the things that this film does so beautifully is that it really underscores this was not just a Trump administration policy or problem.

SCHAMISSO: Is there anything more specific that perhaps you want to touch on when it comes to the needs of the families that were separated?

SCHWIETERT COLLAZO: The Biden administration has really largely, completely rejected any financial restitution for these families, but it is looking at legal pathways — not only for the parents who were separated from their children or guardians who were separated from their children as a result of this policy, but also for family members, immediate family members, who were already in this country, perhaps undocumented prior to the rest of the family's arrival. And this is really, I think, a huge issue that is actually changing lives of several of the families that we support.

In 2021, the Biden administration walked out of restitution talks with separated families, saying that the parties were unable to reach a settlement.

Schwietert Collazo says giving these families temporary legal status is a huge first step, but it's not enough.

"When you're not able to have a permanent, clear legal status, it makes it really difficult for you to make both short and long-term decisions," she said.

Goldstein Knowlton says she hopes viewers of the documentary will be pushed to consider their own view on what's going on at the border.

"What I want people to take away is a reminder of their own humanity, as in every single person can make a difference, and if you work in community, you can make a huge difference, that people are not alone," Goldstein Knowlton said. "When Rosy starts, you know, when I first interviewed her, and she's saying, 'I want to tell my story so that it can help other people,' I mean, that's kind of the thesis for all of my films."

Rosa Irene Gomez Diaz and her daughter wait to request asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.


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