Saint Judy


Appropriately released on the beginning of Women’s History Month, Saint Judy (played by Michelle Monaghan) is a biopic of a Los Angeles attorney who went to court and opened the door for Muslim women to apply for asylum in the United States. The film begins as she leaves Albuquerque, headed for Los Angeles so that her son Alex (Gabriel Bateman) will be closer to his father Matthew (Peter Krause). After settling in a modest apartment, she goes to work at an immigration law firm headed by Ray Hernandez (Alfred Molina). Her first case is to represent Asefa Ashwari (Leem Lubany), a Muslim woman seeking asylum from Afghanistan. Hernandez considers the case unwinnable and fires her, so she sets up shop on her own and hires Parker (Ben Schnetzer), a Spanish-speaking legal intern who needs to apprentice with her until he can join his father’s law firm. The Asefa case reveals a lot about how immigrants, mostly lacking adequate legal representation, are held in detention and face a rubberstamped hearing before deportation. When Judy first meets Asefa, the latter has clearly been drugged to the point that she cannot represent herself or aid a lawyer to represent her. In time, the case is later revealed to consist of Asefa’s brutal treatment and rape by Taliban authorities because she dared to walk along a street in Afghanistan with her schoolchildren without a male escort, though the full story is much more complicated. The judge at the administrative hearing (Alfre Woodward) is sympathetic, but the law and precedent do not allow a woman to seek asylum for sexual mistreatment, something that prompts Judy to appear before a federal court and win a landmark case that has opened possibilities for all battered women to gain asylum in the United States. (Her actual name was Delara Nasseri, and the 1994 case is Nasseri v Moschorak.) As the story unfolds, filmviewers learn about Judy’s obsessive desire to liberate women through legal means, meriting the nickname Saint Judy. Common, an immigration attorney (Benjamin Adebayo), also confides that the agency for which he works was once called Immigration and Naturalization Service, providing service to immigrants, but that after 9/11 the agency was retitled Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with a hardnosed mandate. Directed by Sean Hanish, Saint Judy has been nominated by the Political Film Society as best film on human rights of 2019.  MH