The tears, the separation, the kid clutching a toy dinosaur as a puffed-up official decides his fate this heartbreaking six-parter captures the agony caused by US immigration policy
Kansas City, Missouri, 2018. It is night-time and Luis, his three-year-old son, Noah, and the attorney Megan Galicia are waiting in an isolated car park for a white van. Inside is the boys mother, Luiss partner, Kenia. She is six months pregnant and has been detained by Ice (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) for more than six weeks for the crime of living undocumented in the US under the Trump administration. The removal order was presented to her while she was asleep in a car on the way to a family wedding. Her son and partner watched as she was woken up, handcuffed and taken away. Now she and Noah are going to be deported back to Honduras, the country she fled because of an abusive husband.
Luis, who is also undocumented, has made the extraordinary decision to deliver his son to the facility, at great risk to his own so-called freedom. Why? He wants to say goodbye to his partner, son and unborn child.
The van isnt there. Kenia is already inside. There is a despairing attempt at negotiating the goodbye to take place outside rather than in the lobby, where Luis is at greater risk of being detained. This is what enacting the presidents zero tolerance immigration policy comes down to: an arbitrary division between inside and outside. Noah, swaddled in a blanket and clutching a plastic dinosaur, looks on blankly. They refuse to bring Kenia outside. If I choose to keep you in custody because youre here illegally, then thats what well do, says an Ice official, puffed up on the law and impunity. We dont hold people hostage here. Galicia emits a hollow laugh.
The six episodes of Living Undocumented (Netflix) tell the stories of eight undocumented families who faced deportation in 2018 (and participated at great risk). Spoilers are redundant: we all know how these stories go. Many people were deported. Those who were not remain in limbo. There were no happy endings.
Each story begins and ends abruptly. The lives destroyed or temporarily saved bleed into each other before disappearing as the next takes its place. Many feature regular check-ins at Ice facilities, which under Trump carry the nightmarish threat of instant detainment. The labyrinthine immigration system is explained by brilliant talking heads, all of whom happen to be women. Some stories are more upsetting than others. All made me, the daughter of immigrants, cry.
It is extremely stressful to watch: the hours counted down to deportation; the waiting for phone calls delivering verdicts on whether people can stay (the answer is almost always no); the traumatised parents brushing childrens teeth on the day of reckoning with tears in their eyes and a terrible feigned calm. How do you pack 21 years of your life? asks Alejandra, a military spouse who fled Mexico in 1998 and whose husband voted for Donald Trump. The phone call comes. Her appeal has been rejected; she has two days to leave. One of her children will go with her, the other will stay. There is nothing we can do, she wails into her dogs fur. The dog licks her tears. The episode ends.
Here is the human cost of dehumanising, populist politics the hostile environment that we recognise in spirit, if not strength, on British soil. Many classes, races and ethnicities are represented, from the poor Hispanic construction worker (Luis) to the Israeli poster boy for immigration (Ron) who co-owns a Californian packaging company and has been living undocumented for 17 years because he arrived three months after 9/11. Bad timing, and the anti-immigration rhetoric and policies of successive governments, reaching its barbaric apotheosis with the current administration, have dictated his familys lives.
And so it goes on. Back in the Kansas City car park, the Ice official grabs Luiss arm, having decided to apprehend him. Youre going to make the kid cry, warns Galicia. When she tries to follow the official, Luis and Noah inside, the official pushes her out and throws her to the ground, fracturing her leg. They tricked us, she says as the door slams shut. The cameras keep rolling. A small band of protesters look on, ashen-faced. One shouts in the dark: How do you sleep at night? Another holds up a placard that reads: THE WORLD IS WATCHING.
Not turning away from a documentary as heartbreaking as this is a way to keep watching. In this climate, it begins to feel like a small act of resistance. As the Trump administration continues to target every undocumented man, woman and child in the US, what can we do but refuse to look away?