'Jane the Virgin' Plot a Not-So-Subtle Plea for Immigration Reform

Monday night's mid-season premiere addressed deportation with an on-screen message that read: "Yes, this really happens. Look it up."

Gina Rodriguez at the Golden Globes. (Photo: Reuters/Mike Blake)

Jan 20, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Monday night's mid-season premiere of Jane the Virgin picked up right where the show left off, with Jane's grandmother, Alba, in the hospital after a near fatal push down a flight of stairs. But the plot took an unexpected political turn when Alba's doctor warned that he'd have to report her to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation.

If viewers assumed this subplot was just as unlikely and farcical as the show's premise—a virgin becomes artificially inseminated by accident—then the text that appeared on the screen made it abundantly clear that Alba's threat of deportation was anything but dramatized fiction: "Yes, this really happens. Look it up," the text read, followed by the hashtag #ImmigrationReform.

The sleeper hit, which is an American adaptation of a Venezuelan telenovela, frequently uses tongue-in-cheek subtitles and captions, as well as omniscient voice-over narration, to explain and even mock the action unfolding on-screen. Last night's episode, for example, used a cartoon arrow and captions to point out which hotel guests had undergone plastic surgery (the visual gag led to a dramatic payoff).

The plea for immigration reform was twofold: It not only advanced the narrative but also sent a political message by urging viewers to take action on the real practice of medical repatriation, in which U.S. hospitals deport undocumented patients, often to avoid paying for their care. Viewers took note, and the hashtag surged on Twitter.

The message also got a boost from a slew of new viewers, who tuned in presumably as a result of Gina Rodriguez's surprise Golden Globe win for her portrayal of Jane, a 23-year-old devout Catholic struggling with serious baby-daddy issues. Monday night's premiere drew its largest overall audience (1.4 million) since the show premiered in October 2014 and garnered its best ratings to date among adults ages 18 to 34, according to Variety.

Jane the Virgin's message about immigration reform came just a day before Tuesday night's State of the Union address, in which President Obama is expected to push the issue. In a November 2014 address from the White House, he outlined a plan to provide administrative relief and work permits to up to 3.7 million undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, plus 300,000 additional immigrants who entered the country illegally as children.

Deportations—including returns and removals—under the Obama administration are on track to top 2 million, which would outnumber deportations during George W. Bush's eight-year administration. Medical repatriation, however, isn't enforced by the U.S. government, but by individual hospitals aiming to curb costs. Under the Affordable Care Act, hospitals that treat a high level of uninsured patients suffer cuts in their federal payments from Medicaid and Medicare. An estimated 4.3 million undocumented immigrants remain uninsured after the passing of the act.

A December 2013 report by the Center for Social Justice at Seton Hall Law School found more than 800 cases of attempted or successful medical repatriations across the U.S. In some cases patients were still unconscious when forced on chartered international flights for deportation. Seton Hall Law School and others have deemed the practice unlawful, yet there's no process through which those who are deported can seek reparation.

Luckily for Alba's character in Jane the Virgin, she was saved by a unique alibi: she was a key witness in a court case, as a Miami detective testified. Alas, like many of the show's whimsical plotlines, this particular subplot was simply too good to be true. The thousands of other U.S. immigrants who are threatened by medical repatriation likely won't face such a happy ending.