Netflix documentary series to bring insight on immigration laws

‘Living Undocumented’ shows harsh reality for undocumented families

Written By Hannah Walden, Co-Features/A&E Editor

On Oct. 2, Netflix released a six episode documentary series about the lives of undocumented immigrants and the hardships they face. In 2018, eight undocumented families took the extraordinary risk of allowing film crews to chronicle their lives as they faced potential deportation. “Living Undocumented” depicts the struggles many undocumented immigrants endure in their quest to pursue the American Dream.

The first episode starts with a speaker listing the worries many undocumented people have every day: having to explain why ICE deported a family member, being unsure that “everything will be alright” but telling your family that anyway, and not being able to sleep at night as the constant fear of being deported in the night keeps you awake. People can watch a documentary and say that an issue is bad and things should change, but at the end of the day, the viewer can shut off the TV and resume their normal lives after watching.

The main issue depicted in the first episode is that no matter what the interviewed immigrants struggle with, they risk being deported at the hands of ICE powered by Donald Trump’s zero tolerance policy, explaining that ICE has the authority to deport every undocumented man, woman and child regardless if they are criminals or the average family under the Trump administration.

We are introduced to three undocumented immigrants in this episode; Luis Diaz, Ron and Alejandra. While their stories are different, they all have one thing in common: they came to the U.S. for a better and safe life.

Diaz, who immigrated from Honduras in 2012 when he was just 15 years old, has been living undocumented in Odessa and only speaks Spanish. He says that he makes more a day in the U.S. working for a paving company than he would in a week in Honduras.

Diaz traveled into the U.S. by riding on the tops of trains and buses. It took a month and three days, and he started working his first Sunday in the U.S. making $40 a day.

Diaz lives with his girlfriend Kenia, who he knew from Honduras, and her three year old son Noah. Diaz sees Noah as his own son, even though they are not related. During the time of filming, Kenia was detained by ICE and was being held in a detention facility in Kansas City, Missouri and is to be deported in the next 36 hours.

Throughout the documentary and inbetween the undocumented people’s accounts for what has happened and what they face, there are interviews with lawyers and activists. This is to give people information along with the first-hand accounts of fear and mistreatment, adding information to emotion.

“Many people come to this country not necessarily fleeing persecution from their country,” Immigration Attorney and Former ICE Attorney (1995-2012) Patricia M. Corrales said in the documentary. “They come here for the opportunities that this great country provides. They come here because they can’t feed their families in their country. They don’t have jobs available in their country, and they see this beacon of hope in our country.”

A number of credible sources give background information on statistics to help explain the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border and why the laws passed by the Trump administration harm people and families without due cause.

Theresa Cardinal Brown, a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center, states that statistically, the number of people illegally crossing the border has been going down year by year for over 20 years. These numbers continued to go down throughout the Obama administration and were low in 2018. It wasn’t until 2019 when the numbers suddenly rose because of the growing violent instability in Central America.

“For the first time, a majority of those coming to the U.S.-Mexico border are not Mexican, they’re not single men, they are not looking for work,” Cardinal Brown said in the documentary. “They are applying for asylum, and they’re children and families.”

A common misconception that many Americans have about undocumented immigrants is that they have all illegally crossed the border to get here, when in reality, they came to the country on a visa and they overstayed.

The audience is introduced to Ron, an Israeli veteran that immigrated with his wife in December 2001 during the turmoil in Tel Aviv, wanting a safe place for his growing family. Six months after their first child was born, they came to the U.S. on a tourist visa with the intent to apply for a work visa after the tourist visa expired.

After 9/11, many pathways to citizenship were closed off, including tourist and work visas. Ron’s family’s applications were denied, leaving them no choice but to stay and hope something changed so they can apply.

“The idea of America is that here, the sky’s the limit,” Ron said in the documentary. “You can do much more here than anywhere else I know. I wanted to come here and follow the American Dream … I wanted to have a better life, a better future for my wife, for me and my kids.”

Throughout the documentary, we revisit Diaz and the progression of his situation. The audience learns then that Kenia’s lawyers filed an appeal to stop deportation due to the unfair way she was detained.

“Sometimes I want to cry,” Diaz said, while getting Noah dressed and packed for deportation in the documentary. “The situation stresses me out and it makes me very sad. I have to be strong for my boy because … I can’t be weak, because if I’m weak, imagine how he’ll feel. I need to be strong for everything. For whatever comes, I need to be prepared.”

One of the final points of this first episode is about the process immigrants undergo to enter the U.S. “the right way.” There usually isn’t a place for people to go and wait in line and apply. Most people need to be sponsored by a family member or company in the U.S. Even with sponsorship, a sibling that has attained citizenship after leaving their native country of Mexico or the Philippines, the given example in the documentary, the wait is at least 20 years, and anything longer than that is common.

People don’t have that kind of time to sit and wait, they are fleeing some kind of extreme violence, or they’re unable to survive in their native country.

The last undocumented immigrant the audience sees is Alejandra in Davenport, FL. She’s a runner, a military wife, the mother of two daughters and has been living undocumented since 1998. She left Mexico when she was a teenager due to violence she had witnessed.

When Alejandra was a teenager working at a bakery, she was robbed at gunpoint. After telling the police and pressing charges, the robber came back and threatened her. Afraid for her life, she applied for a work visa in the U.S. three times, but was denied each time. Her family paid a coyote, a human smuggler who brings people across the border for a large sum of money, to get Alejandra into the U.S.

Alejandra couldn’t swim, so she couldn’t be taken across the river, and crossing the desert is dangerous, as young girls like herself are often raped and killed, leaving her only one option: entering a port of entry and falsely claim to be a U.S citizen. The first attempt failed, and she was sent home. The second time, she made it through.

“If you’ve been removed, and then you return to the United States unlawfully or illegally, then you are permanently barred from ever lawfully becoming a resident of the United States, even if you have a child or spouse or parent on active duty, or [is] a veteran,” Corrales said.

After being found out by ICE at a traffic stop in 2013, she has had regular check-ins with ICE for the past five years. Following Trump’s election, she was notified she had been slated for deportation. At the time of filming, she was supposed to be deported two months prior, but ICE allowed her to stay long enough for her daughter’s ninth birthday and for her daughter to finish that year of school, as her youngest daughter will be going with her to Mexico while her 16 year old daughter will stay in the U.S. with her father.

“The president specifically stated he was gonna deport criminals, but my mom is not a criminal, she’s a military wife,” Alejandra’s nine-year-old daughter Estela said on the documentary.

Even though Estela is so young, she comes across as very mature and understanding for her age. She states that she would rather stay in Florida and have her family be whole, understanding that this situation is going to happen regardless and there isn’t anything her family can do to fix it. She accepts this reality that affects so many families just like hers.

We learn that Alejandra’s husband Temo voted for Trump in the 2016 election, not believing that he would separate families, especially his military family. Temo didn’t believe that his wife would be affected because of Trump’s “love” for the military and Alejandra is a military wife.

“The past administration didn’t fix my problem, but the past administration didn’t deport people like me,” Alejandra said.

During the end of episode one, we go back and forth between Diaz and Alejandra and how their situation is progressing in such a short amount of time. Diaz has a few more hours before his family is deported, leaving him alone and without a way to help them. The documentary uses human emotions to express the feelings of fear of the unknown and the love all people have for those they care about. We see Diaz pull over at a truck stop and he and Noah run around and play in the grass with Diaz expressing what he will miss most about Noah.

“I’ll miss the days we were together,” Diaz said. “He’s always there, hugging me, kissing me.”

The end of episode one establishes how the stories of Diaz and Alejandra are going to progress in the next episode. Alejandra’s attorney has applied for a Stay of Removal as a final attempt to stop her deportation. If this is denied, she will be deported in two days. Under the Trump administration, chances of getting the Stay of Removal is slim to none.

The first episode of “Living Undocumented” expressed the diverse and difficult problems many undocumented immigrants face every day in the U.S. under the Trump administration. Not only did the producers find willing interviewees to tell their heartbreaking stories, they were able to back up these facts with facts and statistics, further solidifying the fact that what is happening is wrong and unjust.

Having a well-rounded documentary that includes heartbreaking first-hand accounts, statistics, and facts to back it up, it further validates advocating for undocumented immigrant families and for better policy to help these families in the U.S. It also dismisses causes to deport every undocumented immigrant regardless of criminal record or lack thereof, regardless of status, regardless of families and businesses that are built in the U.S. by informing those who don’t have prior knowledge to how complex the issue truly is.