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(The 2018 SXSW Film Festival kicked off March 9 and ran all the way through to March 17. Hammer to Nail has a slew of reviews and interviews coming in hot and heavy so keep your dial tuned to HtN!)

Embarrassingly enough, I have lived in Austin for over twenty years but never knew Casa Marianella existed. It wasn’t until I watched Jason Outenreath’s They Live Here, Now at SXSW 2018 that I learned about the East Austin refugee house. There is something to be said about taking chances on documentaries, because you might discover something extraordinary – in this particular case the extraordinary thing is happening only a few miles from my house.

Rather than focusing on the history of Casa Marianella, Outenreath’s film documents a particular period in time, following a group of refugees who are hoping to settle into more permanent residential statuses in the United States. These refugees left their homelands because it was too dangerous to remain there. They’ve witnessed violence and death. They’ve lost loved ones. They are alone. To them, asylum in the U.S. is their only chance for safety and security.

Outenreath gives the refugees an opportunity to tell their stories, explaining how they ended up in the U.S. in the first place. A common thread in most of their narratives is the harrowing time they spent in U.S. detention centers, which by all accounts sound like hell on Earth.

They Live Here, Now is designed to help us see the refugees as human beings and not judge them by their origin countries. Who cares if they came from “shithole countries?” These are fellow human beings who are in desperate need of help. They have struggled more than most of us will ever know. But, unfortunately, the current leadership of the U.S. does not see refugees as human beings. Although the U.S. leadership purports to be good Christians, they have no desire to assist those who need help. True Christians – heck, any decent human being – wouldn’t turn these people away from the border. They certainly wouldn’t stick them in detention centers. They would grant the refugees amnesty and shelter.

Because of Outenreath’s approach, They Live Here, Now never feels like propaganda for Casa Marianella, although it does speak to how the shelter helps refugees assimilate into the U.S. by providing them with legal assistance, teaching them English, and setting them up with email and Facebook accounts. It’s certainly hard to deny that the work Casa Marianella and similar shelters are doing is all the more important during the Trump era. It’s also important to remember that these shelters desperately need our donations to keep up their important work.

– Don Simpson (@thatdonsimpson)

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