This hard-hitting documentary series – for which Selena Gomez serves as one of the executive producers – takes an intensely personal look at the ongoing story of immigrants to the US.
It’s a hot news topic under the current administration; one of the first things Trump did as President was to take existing anti-immigration legislation (no, this is not a new thing; Clinton, Bush and Obama all had policies in place) and make it harsher. Where before it had applied to felons and criminals, Trump declared a zero-tolerance approach to anyone crossing illegally over the border into America. Anyone. Including families. The law now states that children are to be separated from their parents after crossing into the US illegally.
In this six-part series, we learn there is so much more to this. We meet families who have been torn apart, husbands and fathers deported back to their own country after 18 years in the US, owning businesses and paying taxes; children ripped from their mother’s arms and separated for months at a time. We see terrifying detention facilities where dignity and basic human rights are stripped away (have we, as people, learned nothing from the past?); and are privy to the desperation, anguish, fear and uncertainty experienced by those living undocumented – for many different reasons. Lawyers explain the complex and complicated immigration laws, and we follow the accounts of individual battles.
Like Luis, whose pregnant girlfriend is detained by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). He risks his own freedom to reunite her with her three-year-old son Noah, who is to be deported to Honduras with his mother, Kenia. Despite assurances from ICE officials that Luis could see Kenia, it does not turn out well.
Then there’s the Dunoyer family, who fled from Colombia and the death threats they were being sent, which continue to this day. They arrived in the US legally in 2002; in 2008 their application for asylum was refused.
Living Undocumented gives these stories a face, a face to which we can all relate.
Like Vinny Phankaysay, who came from Laos as a political refugee with his family in 1986, when he was a child. He was given permanent residency, but after serving a prison sentence for drug trafficking, this was revoked upon his release in 2013. Deporting him is not that cut and dried, however; the country of origin must agree to take its former citizen back.
South African documentaries that offer food for thought
On the other side of the world, in a country with its own problems and issues, it can be easy to turn a blind eye to what is going on – this relentless pursuit of the so-called American Dream which, even in the climate right now where it is more of a nightmare, is preferable to where the immigrants came from.
The tragedies are interspersed with small moments of joy, but the overall picture is incredibly bleak, and so very sad. It seems there are very few happy endings.