This week at a health care hearing a Tennessee state legislator unleashed a repulsive metaphor. He likened immigrants illegally in the country to “rats” who “multiply.” Once my feelings of outrage and disgust subsided, I began to ponder how quickly metaphors can electrify emotions and make reasoned discussion of immigration so difficult. Using Twitter, I quickly discovered sights, sounds and emotional fury over immigration in video form.

There are public service announcements, well worth watching, like “Do I Look Illegal? A Question for Arizona,” and “Week of Our DREAMs.”

There also are hateful shorts, camouflaged by song and humor, which perpetuate the false memes that slander immigrants as the root cause of all of America’s problems. Two are from Ray Stevens who briefly flirted with fame during the pre-PC era (1962) in his racist and sexist tune, “Ahab the Arab.” Stevens tries to restore his depleted career with two anti-immigrant music videos: “Come to the USA” (dedicated ostensibly but unconvincingly “to those hard-working American citizens who were born in other countries and chose to “Come to the USA” the right way!”) and “God Save Arizona” (which compares the 1942 Japanese attack on the ship, Arizona, moored at Pearl Harbor, to the Obama Administration’s lawsuit against Arizona’s SB 1070).

Stevens’ cinematic hate ditties — spewing falsehoods like a long dormant but finally erupting volcano — reminded me how easily and permanently film can warp the electorate’s understanding of immigration rules, for good, bad or manipulatively disinformational motives. I worry, for example, that the public’s view of marriage-based immigration law has been distorted by the Will and Grace episodes describing how Will’s gay friend, Jack, married Karen’s illegal housekeeper, Rosario, so that his “spouse” could escape deportation. Other popular lore on immigration and marriage — similarly misleading — have been on view in the movie Green Card, and more recently, The Proposal.

On the other hand, films can sear insights into the brain by way of the heart that are truthful and lasting. Two recent documentaries, The Other Side of Immigration, and The Invisibles – Hidden Journey Across Mexico, illustrate the power of film to foster understanding of the trauma endured by immigrants and the corruption, heartlessness or simple lack of awareness of some government officials who enforce the immigration laws. Still, one blogger’s “truth” is another person’s “propoganda.”

One of the best ways for each of us to understand film’s influence on the immigration debate is to watch as many films on the subject as time, energy and attention spans permit — preferably at group screenings where discussions follow. Here then are links to compilations of film titles and discussion materials:

REEL Images of Immigration

REEL Images of Immigration: Additional Films

Top Ten Immigration Films

Digital History: Immigration and the Movies

Interdisciplinary Immigration Workshop – Immigration Related Films and Other Media

MurthyDotCom Immigration & the Movies

Watch. Learn. Think. Understand. Change. America will be the better for it.

Don’t let the real “rats” — the heartless and the hurtful — win.