'Living Undocumented' puts faces on families grappling with immigration system

Singer Selena Gomez produced a new Netflix series, "Living Undocumented," and penned an essay saying she is afraid for the country.

Posted: Oct 2, 2019 2:50 PM
Updated: Oct 2, 2019 2:50 PM

"Living Undocumented" is a passionate piece of advocacy filmmaking, one that -- for all the tears and heart-wrenching moments -- will likely end up preaching to the choir. The Netflix presentation nevertheless puts faces on the toll of US immigration policy, while making a point of noting the role of past administrations as well as the current one.

Counting actress-singer Selena Gomez among its producers, the six-part documentary series tells the stories of multiple families, each facing the threat of deportation for one or more of its members.

In the process, the filmmakers -- it's produced by Aaron Saidman and Eli Holzman -- seek to debunk many of the familiar arguments, including the "come the right way" and "get in line" talking points, batted down by immigration attorneys who detail why the scenarios that greeted arrivals in the 19th and early 20th centuries no longer apply.

Not surprisingly, the Trump administration's hardline approach is cast in an extremely unflattering light, and the discussions about not trusting its enforcement mechanisms are made clear in one particularly stunning interlude: A moment when an undocumented man, Luis Diaz, seeking to visit his girlfriend in custody is apprehended, while officers roughly push his lawyer -- seeking to stay at his side -- out the door and onto the ground.

At the same time, the experts interviewed make clear that problems surrounding US immigration policies didn't begin with Trump, going back to detail get-tough tactics and rhetoric implemented under Bill Clinton and indeed every president that has followed him, to varying degrees.

Eight families participated in the project, and the tearing apart of some of them -- including situations where young children are involved -- can be difficult to watch. The situations range from DACA , who make clear they have no ties or allegiance to the countries in which they were born, having spent their entire lives in the US.

If there's a heart and soul to the film, it's Luis Diaz, who has been living in Texas, expecting a child with his girlfriend, Kenia Bautista-Mayorga, who is scheduled to be deported back to their native Honduras along with her three-year-old son, Noah, who Luis views as his own.

Although most of the families come from Mexico and Central America, others have roots in Israel, Africa and Laos. In almost every case, children are agonizingly involved, such as Alejandra Juarez, a military spouse (her husband, Temo, is an ex-Marine who says he voted for Trump) scheduled for deportation back to Mexico, with daughters age nine and 16.

"My mom is not a criminal," the younger child, Estela, says.

Given the passion and politics surrounding the issue -- exacerbated by the administration's separation of children from parents -- it's difficult to shed light on these stories without people retreating to their ideological corners.

While it would be nice to think that the personal tales chronicled in "Living Undocumented" might contribute to a thoughtful discussion of immigration policy, that doesn't seem to be the world in which any of us are living.

"Living Undocumented" premieres Oct. 2 on Netflix.

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