‘From Here/From There’ (De Aqui/de Alla): The Extraordinary Journey of Luis Cortes Romero

Luis Cortes Romero was a smart kid. Growing up in Redwood City, Calif., he excelled in school. He was selected to attend a school for the “gifted.” One of his personal gifts was a supportive, tightly-knit family that held his accomplishments in high esteem even while providing him with the background that encouraged his questioning nature and fighting spirit.

Among Luis’s rewards for his successful school work was a class trip to Europe. But the young undocumented student who had relocated with family from his birthplace in Mexico was unable to get a U.S. passport. Instead of granting Luis a passport, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) deported his father, splitting his family and uprooting his life.

Luis Cortes Romero. | via PBS

Producer/Director Marlene Morris’s lively documentary From Here/From There is the story of how the headstrong Luis Cortes Romero fought through early setbacks to become an immigration attorney who championed the rights of the undocumented and protected DACA. Romero became the first undocumented attorney to successfully argue before the Supreme Court.

Over the course of U.S. history, immigration has always been a thorny issue. Successive waves of newcomers have always been resisted by those who had originally conquered the land and slaughtered its earliest inhabitants. Differences in culture, appearance, and beliefs threatened later immigrants much as they had the original colonists before leaving Europe. Despite all the self-congratulatory rhetoric about diversity and sanctuary, the U.S. government made acquiring legal status in the conquered land a difficult task.

In 2012, President Barack Obama attempted to ease the path toward citizenship. He established the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) to allow undocumented youth the opportunity to maintain residency and employment. The courts blocked Obama’s attempts to expand the program.

When Donald Trump was elected president, immigration was his earliest target. Trump sought to rescind the Obama program, threatening the 800,000 mainly younger people whom it allowed to live and work in the U.S. The 2017 arrest of Daniel Ramirez was a flashpoint. Luis Cortes, himself undocumented, was asked to defend Ramirez. In the racially profiled Ramirez, Luis saw himself. “I’m brown, I have DACA, and I have tattoos. That could have been me.”

Understanding that the entirety of DACA and immigration policy was under threat from the right-wing Trump administration, Luis sprang into action. He helped gather and coordinate a skilled, experienced team committed to present their case before the increasingly conservative Supreme Court.

In telling the story of this battle, Director Morris allows us to see the importance of the character of Luis’s family—his mother’s tough optimism, his father’s crushed dreams, and his sister who learned tenacity from Luis. Through it all shines Luis’s street-savvy, intelligence, and political awareness of the shortcomings but necessity of the program he was defending. Saving DACA was only the first step in making America realize its promise to all of its people.

From Here/From There (De Aqui/de Alla) will premiere on PBS and PBS.org on Tuesday, July 9, as part of PBS’ VOICES/Latino Public Broadcasting in association with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


Michael Berkowitz
Michael Berkowitz

Michael Berkowitz, a veteran of the civil rights and anti-war movements, has been Land Use Planning Consultant to the government of China for many years. He taught Chinese and American History at the college level, worked with Eastern Kentucky Welfare Rights Org. with miners, and was an officer of SEIU.