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How does a great think tank idea become a law? Filmmakers Shari Robertson and Michael Camerini set out to document this process. The result: a twelve-part series, How Democracy Works Now, that puts U.S. immigration policy in the limelight but tells a broader story of how people shape U.S. policy and social change. Join us at CGD next Monday evening for a special screening of never-before-released scenes and a discussion with the filmmakers, CGD senior fellow Michael Clemens and Esther Olavarria, former immigration counsel to Senator Edward Kennedy, about the lessons and prospects for future, bipartisan immigration policy.

How Democracy Works Now: 12 Stories started as an idea in August 2001, while a still-young Bush administration and key members of Congress planned to reform America’s troubled immigration system. In those very early conversations, Robertson and Camerini negotiated exclusive access to record what they thought would be one film on how America’s political process works. At that time, President Bush and President Vicente Fox of Mexico were initiating secret talks, complementing the pro-reform positions taken by Senators Ted Kennedy and Sam Brownback. The setting was right for a bill to pass Congress within the year. But the attacks of September 11th and ensuing national security debates derailed reform. Robertson and Camerini took a gamble, and decided to keep filming—for six years.

The end product, How Democracy Works Now: 12 Stories, takes the viewer from a pre-9/11 America, to immigration debates in Iowa, Kansas, California, and Arizona, and through the eventual failure in 2007 of Congress's “grand bargain," which had promised to change the lives of tens of millions of immigrants and affect every citizen and every state in the union.

The breakdown of the grand bargain after six years offers lessons for what future, bipartisan immigration reform might look like. And filmmakers Robertson and Camerini are keen to share their story and what they've learned about the inner workings of America’s political process. CGD senior fellow Michael Clemens, who leads the Center's research on migration and development, will host a special screening and discussion with the filmmakers and former immigration counsel to Senator Edward Kennedy Esther Olavarria on Monday 23 January at 5:00 P.M.  Together—and with your input and insights—they will look at the obstacles and prospects ahead for successful, bipartisan migration reform.

Read more about CGD’s research on migration and economic development at

About the Film Series

How Democracy Works Now: Twelve Stories is a 12-part documentary film series that reveals the fight for immigration reform on Capitol Hill and across the country with unprecedented access and intimacy. The story spans the critical years 2001 to 2007. How Democracy Works Now premiered on HBO with the broadcast debut of The Senators' Bargain on 24 March 2010. A directors' cut of The Senators' Bargain was featured in the 2010 Human Rights Watch Film Festival at Lincoln Center, with the theatrical title Last Best Chance, along with Story 2: Mountains and Clouds. The series is detailed at

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.