By NKEM OBODO
Right from its first episode, Living Undocumented flawlessly depicts the life-threatening situations that force undocumented immigrants to seek refuge in the U.S. Produced by Selena Gomez, Living Undocumented details the lives of eight families at crucial stages in their immigration process. By interviewing the families, immigration lawyers and former ICE attorneys, the series provides exemplary insight on the impact that the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policies have had.
Take the Dunoyer family; when living in Colombia, Mr. Dunoyer worked at City Hall in the Department of Rural Development. As a financial director, Mr. Dunoyer was contacted by some “farmers” requesting one billion pesos for guerrilla groups infamous for drug trafficking. Mr. Dunoyer denied the request, triggering an influx of death threats. Once, when his wife returned home from Manizales, several guerilla members were there waiting to deliver a January deadline for the Dunoyers to come up with the money otherwise they would kidnap their first son. With no help from the local police and no strategy for acquiring one billion pesos, they fled to the U.S. in 2002 seeking asylum. To this day, they still receive death threats from the guerrillas in Colombia.
Tragic stories like this combined with expert policy and legal explanations make this documentary highly informative and debunks any myths promoted by mainstream media.
Not only does the documentary focus on the plight of individuals targeted by ICE, but it also shows the damage done to the families involved. It’s almost impossible to watch when Pamela Juarez is separated from her mother and nine year old sister, Estela, as they are deported back to Mexico.
Furthermore, the series clarifies that strict immigration enforcement did not begin with Trump and traces problematic policies back to the Clinton era. For example, the show depicts how Eddie Fernandez arrived from Mexico in 2002 at age 14 to briefly visit his ailing mother but has stayed here ever since. Now married to U.S. citizen Tyler Thom, Eddie should have been able to apply for permanent residency. He was denied this request because he entered the U.S. on a flight, meaning he went through Immigration and Customs either by Visa, by claiming someone’s identity or by falsely claiming to be a U.S. Citizen. He is unable to remember which one.
Since there is a possibility that he may have falsely claimed U.S. citizenship, Eddie cannot become a permanent resident. Under the Clinton administration, the Permanent Bar was passed stating that if someone falsely claims U.S. citizenship, they are forever barred from lawfully becoming a permanent resident. This prompted Eddie and Tyler to move to Canada instead.
Though the immigrant stories are the heart of the docu-series, what I found especially notable was the disgusting behavior of the ICE officers. In one incident, the officers promised Luis — who had lived in the U.S. for 17 years undocumented and undetected by ICE — permission to say goodbye to his wife in the parking lot before she was deported back to Honduras. When the day came, the officers forced Luis inside the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services building, where they could officially detain him indefinitely. Startled by the deceit, Luis’ lawyers attempted to follow him into the facility, only to be assaulted and pushed to the ground by an ICE officer, resulting in a fractured right foot and lacerations in the left ankle and knee.
Though clearly an extreme situation, this scene is meant to underscore how Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric has emboldened and empowered ICE agents to act more aggressively, whether it’s through physical harm or by making collateral arrests of immigrants without a criminal background.
Irrespective of your political opinion concerning illegal immigration, Living Undocumented is a must-watch. It puts faces to undocumented immigrants susceptible to the negative discourse constantly presented in the media and combats our tendency to reduce them to a statistic.
It’s obvious that the intent was to soften the hearts of those pushing for unforgiving immigration legislation by humanizing undocumented immigrants. However, as powerful as this docu-series is, my concern is that it will attract viewers who already agree with the leftist perspective presented.
As Awa, daughter of refugee Amadou, said, “You can watch a documentary, and you can say, ‘Well, this is too bad.’ But at the end of the day, it’s just something that you’re watching on TV, and you can turn that off, and you can go about your life.” My hope is that this advocacy series sparks conversation and emphasizes the need to fix our broken system.
•Nkemdirim Obodo is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University.