CNN Photos

Putting a face on the immigration debate

Tibetan exile Thupten Lama was living in India in when a mob attacked his home because of his religious beliefs. After the incident, he moved his family to Minneapolis and obtained political asylum. He was granted U.S. citizenship nearly 15 years later.

Lama is among the 50 immigrants photographed by Ariana Lindquist for “Green Card Stories,” a book that reflects the diversity of the people who go through the immigration system in the United States.

“It was really compelling hearing what many people went through to come here as well as what many people went through in order to stay,” Lindquist said.

With an undergraduate degree in anthropology, she had often thought about why people leave their home countries. She moved to China on a Fulbright grant in 2005 and was living there when she became involved in the project.

It was the first time she accepted a portrait assignment. As a photojournalist, she was used to documenting what people were doing naturally. It took her a while to adjust to telling people what to do.

“Sometimes I was thinking I’d rather be standing in front of a rank of riot police than asking this person whether or not they wanted to stand here or there and have me direct them,” she said laughing. “A lot of times it felt very intimidating.”

When she could, Lindquist took a more journalistic approach and captured real moments, like the image of a mother kissing her son on the cheek.

She spent months traveling across the country and made sure she had at least five hours with each person. Before arriving, she had already spoken with them at length.

“I was trying to glean what the story was but also pick up ideas and concepts that I might be able to apply to the images at the end,” Lindquist said.

The people she met included a previously undocumented Caribbean orthopedic surgeon, the Taiwanese co-founder of Yahoo and a Sudanese “Lost Boy,” displaced by the country’s civil war.

Some of them had entered the country illegally; others came through an employer, spouse or relative. All have since found a path to permanent residency or citizenship.

Their stories are told in essays by journalist Saundra Amrhein. The collaborative project was the brainchild of immigration lawyer Laura Danielson and also involved her colleague Stephen Yale-Loehr.

The book is their attempt to humanize the complicated and divisive immigration issue.

“What it ultimately comes down to is people’s lives and who they are and what they want from life,” Lindquist said. “That was really my goal with the photographs – to try and give each individual the space in which they felt comfortable expressing who they are.”

- Brett Roegiers, CNN

Read a Q&A with the book’s author on CNN’s In America blog.