Living Undocumented

Living Undocumented

Written on 11/26/2019

Department:
Author: Mary Li Ma

This six-part Netflix documentary presents the current immigration crisis in a way that goes beyond statistics and images. It weaves together stories of trauma and hope from eight families impacted by deportation measures targeting undocumented immigrants. These families came from a variety of places, including Mexico, Central America, Israel, Africa, and Laos. The producers deliberately found people who had different stakes and were at different points in the immigration process. Out of their vastly different trajectories in life, some common emotions emerge as deeply moving: their yearning for family togetherness, the pain of status inferiority, and the hope for another light on the darkening path nearing deportation.

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These immigrants were given voices here. They showed great strength in enduring hardships and hoping for a kind of equality and dignity that surpasses this world. This is a much-needed truth-telling project that humanizes immigrants and invites deep reflections on the oozing wound of institutional abuse.

Filmmakers strove for viewers’ full-immersion in these people’s life scenes, including the mundane and the definitive moments. Behind each undocumented person, there are often multiple layers of trauma and loss. As each story unfolds in a disturbing direction, viewers are likely to be overwhelmed with a sense of empathy, powerlessness, and sometimes even humiliation.

Young Mexican worker Luis drove hours to deliver a toddler boy to Immigration and Customs Enforcement so the boy can reunite with his mom, Kenia, who was six-months pregnant. The young woman fled her abusive ex-husband. After coming to the U.S., she started another family with Luis. Then Kenia was detained by ICE and faced deportation. Luis decided to risk himself by bringing Kenia’s son to her. Two female lawyers accompanied Luis to the outside of ICE, but one ICE officer pushed down a lawyer to the ground and captured Luis. The scene of violence and trickery happened right in front of the camera as the gripping suspense unfolded. A few months later, Kenia hired coyotes and crossed the U.S.-Mexican border again in order to give birth to her second child on American soil. This young family reunited, but they had to relive the anxiety and fear for deportation together.

One family fled to the U.S. on a visa from Colombia in 2002 after the local guerillas repeatedly threatened their lives. After a judge denied their asylum application, the family was allowed to stay under private legislation by a Republican Representative. But things changed in the current hardline immigration crackdown. The two boys who came as infants now have grown to young adults without legal documents. Although they strove to continue schooling, after their father was detained by ICE and then deported, these young men’s futures in the U.S. seem to be in limbo.

Nobody would have foreseen the wife of a former U.S. Marine facing deportation, but that is what happened to Alejandra, a woman of Mexican origin who entered into the U.S. illegally in 1998.

After multiple support efforts by media and politicians failed, she had no choice but to self-deport with her 9-year-old U.S.-citizen daughter. Alejandra’s husband and older daughter stayed in Florida.

These real-life stories are powerful testimonies of human suffering in our current time. But seeing how numerous lawyers, advocates, and ministries are helping to alleviate the pain of deportation, we are also reminded of humanity’s unflinching hope for dignity as God’s image-bearers. (Netflix)

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