11 Documentaries About Immigrants Everyone Should Watch Right Now

These films put a face on an often divisive issue.

Donald Trump ran his presidential campaign partly on promises of overhauling the United States’ immigration system.

While the president-elect seldom shared specific policies or actions he’d take, he’s made several promises when it comes to immigration. His most infamous proposal: building a “Great Wall” on the U.S.-Mexico border, a structure he recently said U.S. tax payers will pay for until he gets Mexico to reimburse costs. Trump has also said he’ll deport or imprison millions of undocumented immigrants shortly after taking office.

And the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gives undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children temporary deportation relief, remains uncertain.

Political debates on immigration can make it easy to forget that millions of human beings will be affected by what’s decided in Washington. That’s where the arts ― and in this case, documentarians ― come in to offer some personal perspective.

These 11 standout documentaries from the last thirteen years serve as a reminder of the human struggle and spirit that drive many of the immigrants living in the United States. From those who make the dangerous journey across the U.S.-Mexico border to those who fight on the front lines for immigration reform in Congress, these films will help you put a face to an often divisive but important issue.

Take a look at the trailers and synopsis of all the documentaries below:

2004, "The New Americans"
This seven-hour PBS documentary chronicles four years in the life of immigrants from different backgrounds as they build their life in the United States. From two Dominican baseball players trying to make it into Major League Baseball to Ogoni refugees making their way to the U.S. from Nigeria -- the 2004 film gives us an intimate look into the lives of the newest Americans.
2007, "Made in LA"
The Emmy-winning documentary is a story of how three Latina immigrants working in Los Angeles garment sweatshops take on Forever 21 in a fight for basic labor rights. The film offers a glimpse at the dismal working conditions many immigrants face and the courage it takes to fight back.
2009, "The Other Side of Immigration"
The 55-minute documentary tries to offer some insight as to why so many Mexican immigrants leave behind their family and homes in search for a new life in the United States. With the help of over 700 interviews conducted in rural Mexico, director Roy Germano not only contextualizes many immigrant stories but shows what happens to the communities left behind.
2009, "Which Way Home"
For decades, tens of thousands of unaccompanied children have made the dangerous journey to the United States in the hopes of reuniting with family or finding a better future for themselves. Many travel north by hitching a ride on the freight train called La Bestia. This Oscar-nominated feature documentary follows several children on their journey, giving a glimpse into the dangers and hope that motivate them to risk their lives. For some, the journey proves to be deadly.
2012, "Inocente"
This Oscar-winning short follows Inocente, a 15-year-old undocumented immigrant who despite having been homeless for nine years hopes to create a colorful future for herself one canvas at a time. The documentary is a story of resilience and about how big a young girl can dream despite the limitations of her status.
2013, "Documented"
Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas made headlines in 2011 when he revealed he was undocumented, risking everything to redefine what it means to be an American.
2014, "Who is Dayani Cristal?"
A corpse found decaying in the blistering heat of the Sonora desert takes Mexican actor Gael García Bernal and director Marc Silver on a journey to retrace the dead migrant's steps and discover his identity. Their only clue is a tattoo on his body that reads "Dayani Cristal."

The story of "Dayani" is the story of the thousands who've died on their journey across the U.S.-Mexico border. The doc is an eye-opening look at the true impact of a more militarized border.

“The decisions that are made in places like Washington affect people thousands of miles away,” Silver told The Huffington Post in 2014. “It’s not just a story of the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s a story that resonates from North Africa, to Indonesia and Australia, where people are dying.”
2014, "Underwater Dreams"
When a group of undocumented high school students took on MIT in a sophisticated underwater robotics competition, no one could've guessed the results. The documentary shows viewers that, regardless of status or resources, a group of dreamers could defy everyone's expectations and create a lasting legacy. Their story is a true underdog tale that even caught Hollywood's eye.
2014, "Llevate Mis Amores"
In a small Mexican village close to the tracks of La Bestia, the freight train many immigrants hitch a ride on to travel to the United States, there's a group of women doing a labor of love. "Llevate mis amores" is the story of these women who work to give food and water to those risking their lives for a better future.
2015, "Immigration Battle"
Independent filmmakers Shari Robertson and Michael Camerini give viewers a glimpse at how Washington works, but more specifically how the immigration battle is fought and discussed behind closed doors in Congress.
2015, "No Le Digas A Nadie"/ "Don't Tell Anyone"
Activist Angy Rivera shares what it's like to refuse to be limited by her legal status in the United States. Through activism and her undocumented youth advice column she began to redefine what it means to be undocumented. Rivera shares her life story in "Don't Tell Anyone," how she overcame sexual abuse, fear and more to now having the opportunity to leave behind the limitations of her legal status.

Before You Go

April 2015

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