Undocumented Immigrants: The “Criminal” Next Door

Media used: Living Undocumented, Netflix, Aaron Saldman & Anna Chai October 2, 2019 LINK

          The media reviewed was the first episode in a series titled Living Undocumented in which the viewer follows the struggles of three families living in the United States without legal documentation. The docuseries follows a collection of undocumented immigrants as they talk about their struggles with the administration and its zero tolerance approach to illegal immigration. The first episode follows Luis, Rob, and Alejandra as they each struggle to handle the looming threat of deportation, the deportation of their loved ones, and even their own deportation.

The story of Luis Diaz, an undocumented male from Honduras, revolves more around his girlfriend Kenia and her son Noah. After being pulled over by law enforcement one night, Kenia was arrested due to having an active deportation order. Despite the presence of Luis and Noah in the vehicle, both of which had an active deportation order, only Kenia was taken. The story of the trio follows their trip to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility where Kenia and Noah will be deported. Along the way the viewer will be exposed to the general system of appeals and risks they must undergo in an attempt to reunite Kenia and Noah before they are deported all while attempting to prevent their removal. This is in addition to the immense risk taken by Luis as he puts himself in a position to be trapped by ICE and deported as well.

Rob is an undocumented immigrant from Israel who escaped his strife-ridden homeland in search of a better life for his children. Living with his wife Karen and their three children for seventeen years with no current way to seek legal citizenship. Ron provides his family with a living by running his own branding and packaging company with his co-owner Brad. Their story outlines the family’s reason to flee Israel, the struggles of owning a business as an undocumented immigrant, and the risks associated for all those involved, including Brad. The picture of the American Dream, the family of five must live in fear and hiding until an avenue to become legal residents arises.

Alejandra is a military wife living in the suburbs as an undocumented immigrant with her husband Temo, and her daughters Estella and Pamela. After coming to the United States from Mexico in 1998 she has created a life for herself and has currently been checking in with ICE for the last five years. After the Trump administration took office she was notified that she is slated for deportation. Her husband voted for Trump and believed that only “criminal, bad hombres” would be the ones targeted by the enforcement policies. He does his best to comfort his wife leading up to and after the notification. Estella will be deported with her mother due to her age, as she is too young to take care of herself.

The cases of Luis and Alejandra are not exceptions or rare instances, rather they are part of a startling majority that brings to question the actual purposes of these deportations and the efforts being made. Chavez (publication year, as cited in Martínez et al., 2018) believes that the system of enforcement as having less to do with crime and safety and rather the handling of what is described as the “Latino Threat” narrative and a front for ulterior motives. He believes that it is a way to take xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment and dress it in such a way that it can be misconstrued as protecting the country. Sentiment like this is only made more understandable when one takes into account the overzealous tactics used by law enforcement with Latino people, both documented and undocumented. According to Provine and Doty (publication year, as cited in Menjívar et al. 2018), the policies implemented target undocumented Latinx immigrants and provide law enforcement with the authority to “take strong action against them.” This is only further exacerbated by the increase in enforcement that selectively targets Latinx people and serves as a reminder of the overwhelming presence of law enforcement that undocumented immigrants must avoid while simultaneously reminding documented immigrants that their welcome to the country is on a strict time limit. This crushing pressure from the individuals placed in a position to enforce the laws and protect the community often lead to the exact opposite, creating a greater divide in community-police relationships.

This issue can be reflected even in the year 2020 in the instance of Joaquin Marte when he and two other Latinos were traveling through Jim Thorpe, PA only to be pulled over for a difficult to read license plate. Shortly after, the men were arrested and detained with not citation issued. At the time of writing this, the ACLU are filing a federal civil rights lawsuit over the stop and detainment (ACLU 2020). With the case pending, the sentiment of Provine, Doty, and Chavez become more understandable. The plight of undocumented immigrants fleeing hardship, violence, the threat of death, or a combination thereof is one expertly displayed by Living Undocumented.

Living Undocumented is a candid testimonial to the often unheard side of the immigration debate and I would implore anyone interested in the topic to watch it with an open mind. Regardless of one’s stance on the matter, Living Undocumented allows the viewer to understand the motivations of an undocumented immigrant, the hurdles they face when attempting to become legal citizens, and dispel the myths that surround the matter. With testimony from professionals accompanying the segments from the brave immigrants, the first episode is a perfect first step into understanding the motivations of Sanctuary Cities and those that endorse similar policies. This docuseries is the perfect place for anyone looking to experience an emotional journey through the lives of people who are criminalized by the government of the nation of which they so desperately want to be a part.




ACLU-PA Files Lawsuit Over Racial Profiling and Illegal Detention by Jim Thorpe Borough Police. (2020, February 21). Retrieved March 5, 2020, from https://www.aclupa.org/en/press-releases/aclu-pa-files-lawsuit-over-racial-profiling-and-illegal-detention-jim-thorpe-borough

Martínez, D. E., Martínez‐Schuldt, R. D., & Cantor, G. (2018). Providing Sanctuary or Fostering Crime? A Review of the Research on “Sanctuary Cities” and Crime​. Sociology compass, 12(1), e12547.

Menjívar, C., Gómez Cervantes, A., & Alvord, D. (2018). The expansion of “crimmigration,” mass detention, and deportation. Sociology Compass, 12(4), e12573.

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