Deborah Jane, a Ugandan refugee resettled in Columbus, was featured in episode five of the Netflix documentary series “Immigration Nation.”
Running for her life separated Deborah Jane from her four children, and the hope of being with them again was all that kept the Ugandan refugee going during the five years they were apart.
Now reunited, the efforts that Jane went through to get her children, who range in age from 12 to 22, to her home on Columbus’ Northwest Side have been chronicled in a recently released Netflix documentary series called “Immigration Nation.”
The six-part series, released Monday, sheds light on the country’s complex immigration process, through stories such as Jane’s, and shows how it has “intentionally been turned into an extremely divisive issue,” said filmmaker Shaul Schwarz, who co-directed the series with Christina Clusiau.
“There is a perception now that you have to be either ‘for’ or ‘against’ immigration, but the one thing we learned throughout making this project that everyone can agree on is that our immigration system is broken,” he said. “No matter what their perspective — whether they’re an ICE agent, police officer, an advocate, an immigrant who is documented or undocumented or a just a concerned citizen — we hope viewers gain a better understanding of the issue through the real-life stories they’ve seen on screen.”
Jane’s life is featured in episode five. The victim of a January 2014 acid attack, Jane has undergone 22 surgeries and fled to America in January 2016 through the refugee resettlement program. Since arriving in the United States, Jane had been trying to get her four children to join her, and it is 2018 when the filmmakers catch up with her.
Angie Plummer, executive director of Community Refugee and Immigration Services, a refugee resettlement agency in Columbus, is also featured in the series. She talks about Jane and other refugees who have waited years to be reunited with family members who were supposed to follow them soon afterward but didn’t because of policy changes by President Donald Trump after his election and what she says is a lack of motivation to support the resettlement program and reunite families.
Trump has repeatedly cited security concerns when limiting refugee resettlement and the entry of people from certain, mostly Muslim, countries.
“Separation of families is something so painful,” Jane said in the documentary series. “It’s the worst punishment.”
In October 2018, Jane flew over 7,800 miles to Nairobi, Kenya, where her kids were living, in order to beg embassy officials face-to-face to speed up their case.
In the documentary, Jane is seen telling her kids not to lose hope as she says goodbye to them to fly back to the United States after her trip.
Nine months later, the children arrived at Columbus’ John Glenn International Airport and ran into their mother’s open arms. After Jane’s visit, the children had received a notice from the federal government saying they had to do background checks and they were resettled some months later.
Though some cases end up with a happy ending like Jane’s, many more refugees in Columbus and around the country remain separated from their children and other loved ones because of bureaucratic policies from the Trump administration, Plummer said.
“This is kind of an anomaly,” Plummer said of Jane’s case.
“It took heaven and earth just to try to get these four Ugandan children here,” Plummer said in the documentary. “It’s hard to take the time to stop and celebrate knowing there are so many more people. … It’s such small progress.”
After a little celebration, Plummer said it’s time to get back to helping other refugees caught in limbo.
Jane, 45, said she was excited to be featured in “Immigration Nation” and hopes people learn more about refugees like her from it.
“They don’t really know why we have to flee our country, so it gives a very good picture of what people like me, what we go through,” Jane said of the documentary series.
She believes telling her story to the filmmakers, on panels in Washington, D.C., and to other groups such as churches and refugee resettlement agencies helped get her children back.
Today, Jane works as a baker and cake decorator at Kroger and Cameron Mitchell Restaurants. One day, she hopes to open a bakery like the one she used to own in her home country.
Her surgeries aren’t over, but Jane is very grateful to be with her children again and living in the United States, safe from the men who attacked her. She said the men were hired by the father of her children, who was angry with her for leaving him after he took a second wife and was jealous of her successful business.
“My children see it as a dream every day,” she said of living in America.
Every week, the family stays up at least one night until the early hours of the morning, talking about all of the life they missed together while separated, Jane said.
“We talk at times, we cry at times, it is all laughter at times,” she said. “We just kneel down and pray and thank God for his love and kindness. It is just a blessing to us that we have a new home here.”