A Prayer In The Night
The World Is Watching
A Family Torn Apart
Home Sweet Home
Immigration is one of those taboo subjects that’s fiercely debated the world over. From Brexit’s divisive hold that’s fragmented Britain and Germany’s controversial open-border policy, right the way across the pond to America’s plan for a wall across Mexico, this topic is something that’s been used and abused to forward political agendas and stir emotions the world over.
It’s so fiercely debated however, it can sometimes be difficult to formulate a rational review or opinion without devolving to personal feelings and attacks on the situation. Living Undocumented is an emotionally charged documentary series designed specifically to stir those very emotions. And it works, for the most part. However, in its bid to produce a poignant, heartbreaking view of these people’s lives, Living Undocumented opts away from facts and figures and instead focuses on the human element, which is both the best and worst part of this docu-series.
Following the lives of eight families, the shocking attacks in 9/11 paved way for stricter immigration laws to come into play for these men and women who entered, and stayed, in the United States of America illegally. As we’re told here, pre-9/11 it was a safe bet to get a tourist visa and then convert that to a work visa while those who had expired travel visas just never bothered to go home. Often overlooked under previous administrations, all of these issues have only been exacerbated and accelerated by the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigrants in the country.
With a blend of news reports, black stock text and fly on the wall footage, Living Undocumented remains intentionally grounded as we learn about the past and tumultuous future these families face, many of whom have taken a great risk by coming to the United States. Interspersed around this are several different lawyers who talk through the legal nightmare of trying to gain asylum the correct way and the issues they now face in defending undocumented people – repeating the message across the different episodes that there’s up to a 2 year wait to enter the country legally.
There’s no denying that the documentary itself is incredibly poignant and at times very difficult to watch. Whether it be a Colombian man receiving death threats from guerrillas on a daily basis or a man forced to use a coyote to smuggle his pregnant wife back into the country from Honduras, Living Undocumented is a tough watch and the stories are sometimes difficult to sit through. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for these men and women, especially those facing death or imprisonment by returning home.
It’s never easy seeing families broken up, especially those that relied so heavily on previous administrations but have been upended and torn apart by recent changes in the Government. However, with no interviews from ICE, immigration, MPs or the Trump administration itself, the result is a documentary series heavily skewed toward one side of the discussion without much of a balanced perspective, playing on those feelings to drive an overwhelming feeling of anger and contempt toward deportation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually an advocator for looser migration laws, having been a pretty vocal supporter of Remaining in the EU here in the UK and embracing multiculturalism but to me, the better way to drive this message home is through cold, hard facts and numerous informative graphics and diagrams.
Save for a single graph early on in the first episode, not once does Living Undocumented use examples like Germany’s controversial ‘Open Door Policy’ (for better or worse) or any of the overwhelming evidence toward the benefits of migration. It’s incredibly frustrating, especially when research throws up numerous papers and reports about the positive effects of migration on communities. All of this potential is squandered in place of an emotionally stirring documentary about the human element and cost of these issues instead, resulting in a documentary that’s almost certainly going to polarize opinion.
Living Undocumented is not a bad documentary series per-se. It has enough emotion and intent about it to make for an important and timely reminder of what these laws do to people, but it does so without evidence or scientific rationale to back its ideas up. Throughout the six episodes there’s no mention that, for example, immigrants are 69% less likely to be imprisoned when compared to native citizens or the productivity of immigrants can boost the GDP of the US by as much as 0.4% in a single year. Little touches like this could have made this one of the best documentaries of the year but unfortunately leaves Living Undocumented, a cruelly ironic undocumented series lacking that cutting edge to make for a more compelling argument in favour of migration.