The CW's primetime soap Jane the Virgin has been exploring deliciously salacious plotlines since it debuted to critical acclaim in October. The series hasn't taken itself — or its story of a young woman who gets accidentally inseminated by the sperm of a man with whom she once shared a kiss and who is also her boss — seriously, but in the Jan. 19 midseason premiere, Jane the Virgin addressed a very real issue: immigration reform.
"Immigration and immigration reform is something that we always knew we were going to touch on," Jane showrunner, executive producer, and writer Jennie Urman told BuzzFeed News in an email. "It affects so many families in the Latino community, it's something our country is grappling with, and it's something that we feel strongly about in our writer's room."
Jane the Virgin centers on the eponymous Jane (Gina Rodriguez), who lives in Miami with her mother, Xiomara, (Andrea Navedo) and her maternal grandmother, Alba (Ivonne Coll). Alba is not a U.S. citizen, a fact that came to light when, after she found out she was pregnant, Jane filed a lawsuit against the OB-GYN who inseminated her. But soon thereafter, she dropped the suit, realizing that going to court, for any reason, was risking her grandmother getting deported.
"We decided at the beginning of our season that Alba would be in this country illegally and discussed ways that this would be brought up and how it would affect our characters and their decisions," Urman explained. "We know how important [this issue] is to the community we are representing. The hope is by personalizing this issue, and playing it out through beloved characters, we can make the political, personal... and hopefully raise consciousness, and compassion."
Ultimately, Alba's status came to the forefront of the show after she was pushed down the stairs in the December midseason finale. She suffered a brain injury that caused her to be admitted to the hospital, where the doctors found out that she's not a legal U.S. citizen. As Alba lay unconscious in the midseason premiere on Jan. 19, Xiomara was informed that, as soon as her mother wakes up, she'd be deported to Venezuela.
And then the show, which oft adds commentary and subtext via typewriter-inspired subtitles, made a bigger statement about what Alba and her family were facing. "We type on screen and often use hashtags," Urman wrote. "What was interesting about this one — was that we put it in before Obama's immigration action (back in November). And once that happened (and he pushed to deport felons, not families), it seemed even more timely."
Urman told BuzzFeed News in her email that the Jane the Virgin writers found out about medical repatriation in their research, which "seemed like an organic complication to our story, and also something that more people needed to be aware of," Urman noted.
Medical repatriation is when hospitals, often at the order of health insurance companies, put sick patients who are undocumented on planes to their native countries. Xiomara's boyfriend and Jane's estranged father, soap star Rogelio (Jaime Camil), tried to use his celebrity status to pull some strings with the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Office by contacting the United Nations... and Gloria Estefan. But it was Jane's former fiancé, Michael (Brett Dier), who came through, saying that Alba is a key witness in an ongoing FBI investigation and needs to stay in the country to keep the case alive, thus stopping the deportation. While Alba is safe for now, Urman hinted the issue will arise again on Jane the Virgin.
"It was resolved quickly partly out of a practical concern (we love Alba and don't want her to go anywhere!) and also to give a heroic, and selfless moment to Michael — which we, as writers, wanted him to have, to keep people invested in the Michael/Jane side of the triangle," Urman wrote. "But while that moment is resolved, Alba's (and Jane's and Xiomara's) real fear and vulnerability is something we will continue to bring up as we go. Rational or irrational, that fear pervades the Villanueva household and affects them in moments both large and small."
Immigration reform has been part of the conversation surrounding The CW series since its creation and made headlines in November 2014 when Jane the Virgin co-star Diane Guerrero, who plays Jane's friend and co-worker, Lina, opened up about coming home from school at age 14 and finding out both her parents had been deported to Colombia. The actor urged U.S. lawmakers to find better solutions for immigrant families. Urman told BuzzFeed News she heard Guerrero's story when she was casting the show and wanted to find a way to address the issue on screen. "I was absolutely gutted by that story and the image of Diane, at 14, suddenly without parents. And no one came to check on her! But the story stayed with me, it moved me, and I knew we would work this very real issue into our show."