Sometimes, real life and television collide in a way that feels nearly too close for comfort. Usually, thanks to the overwhelming amount of extreme violence in reality and on the TV screen, that means a series nearly airs an episode involving a fictional mass shooting at the same day a heartbreaking one terrorizes the real world. This week, though, there were no assault rifles or floors littered with nameless, faceless dead bodies. Instead, the lines between truth and fiction blurred during the mid-season finale of The Fosters, as the final moments showed a young Dreamer bolting into a church for sanctuary from law enforcement.
The season 5A installment, "Prom," aired the same day as Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions announced the federal government is rescinding DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The program protects young people, including kids, who were brought to America as children, with absolutely no say in the matter. The Fosters’ Ximena (Lisseth Chavez) is exactly one of these children, leaving an uncomfortably prophetic taste in viewers’ mouths.
Seeing Ximena’s scary situation rapidly intensify at any time would be unsettling. It’s even worse knowing this could be a reality for 800,000 people who have only seen America as a home. In "Prom," main character Callie Foster (Maia Mitchell) realizes ICE, or Immigration And Customs Enforcement, officers are looking for Ximena following a campus protest where she came out as an undocumented immigrant. Although she did nothing illegal at the gathering, and is certainly not a danger to the homeland, the feds are still hotly pursuing her. It’s so serious, Ximena escapes police officer Stef Foster’s car — despite the fact Callie’s mom is trying to protect her — since she can’t risk going to the police station and then possibly getting deported afterward.
Instead of staying with Stef (Teri Polo), Ximena stows away in a car with Callie. She is eventually offered sanctuary through a friend of a friend, and the ending scene of "Prom" shows Ximena, Callie, and Calie’s ex A.J. Hensdale (Tom Williamson) breathlessly running towards a church. It’s disturbingly evident that deportation could be a real outcome if they fail to find an open door fast enough, as packs of officers chase them down. Remember, this is a young woman with a DACA card — who’s filled out all the paperwork, payed the application fee, and given away all of her personal information.
Showrunner and episode director Joanna Johnson admits the episode is a response to the more xenophobic policy attempts by the Donald Trump administration. "Absolutely. I think this is an issue that we’d been interested in before that we’ve kind of touched on before in the show," the writer explained to Refinery29 on a phone call last Wednesday, before the battle over DACA emerged prominently in the news. "But also, we were interested in DACA and the fact that the kids who were brought here as children and didn’t have the choice really are Americans in every sense of the word being targeted for deportation and especially now that DACA looks like it’s in peril of being discontinued by the administration. We really wanted to tell that story."
Although some may be surprised by the fact this episode aired on the exact day Attorney General Session announced the DACA roll-back, it seems The Fosters team saw the writing on the wall. "We didn’t anticipate that entirely, but we were worried that DACA was going to be in jeopardy, so it feels like the timing is really good for getting those messages out," Johnson continues, stressing the fact the story should feel "personal" to the series, as opposed to a general indictment of today's current political atmosphere. As we see throughout the season, Ximena is afraid of even giving the government more information about herself, as it could help the feds deport her parents and leave her sister Poppy Sinfuego (Nandy Martin) an orphan, since she was born here. "The thing about DACA is that it doesn’t give you any kind of legal status, it puts you low on the priority of being detained," Johnson reminds us. "So, these kids are still at risk and still living scared and living with a lot of unknown."
In Fosters’ tradition of extreme realism, things will not let up for Ximena in season 5B. "It’s not going to be easy for her to leave and, of course, the question is how easy will it be for Callie and AJ to leave? Are they in trouble for helping her get into the church?" Johnson says. "Is it really just Ximena that ICE is after, largely just because she spoke out and talked about [her undocumented status]? We all know she didn’t say anything that threatened the security of the homeland. ICE is sort of, in this new administration, going after anybody they want. That includes DACA and we’re going to continue to explore the Wild Wild West of ICE at the moment, where no holds are barred."
But, don’t fret Fosters fans. As I said, The Fosters isn’t going to turn into a doom-and-gloom referendum of politics. “What we really want to do also [in season 5B] is have some lighter stories and some fun just really human stories and family stories," Johnson promises. "We don’t just want to be the show that is tackling sort of political issues. This one has a real human story and that’s what we’re really interested in.”
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