Filming Against Odds: Undocumented Youth “Come Out” With Their Dreams
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One of the most important outcomes personally and politically was that undocumented young people saw themselves and their lives reflected on the screen. They found themselves surrounded by unforeseen allies who asked, “what can we do?” During discussions, young people in the audience often “came out” as undocumented, sometimes for the first time.
Today, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of youth who have gone public. The undocumented youth movement, sometimes referred to as the DREAM Act movement, though passage of this bill is not their sole goal, has gained enormous momentum over the last ten years since the DREAM Act was first introduced in Congress.
These activists know that they are standing on the shoulders of generations of activists who have come before them and consciously use language and tactics from the Civil Rights Movement, the women’s movement and the LGBTQ rights movement. Starting in March of 2010, undocumented youth began a series of “Coming Out of the Shadows” events in front of federal buildings and in the press. Marches, protests, hunger strikes and civil disobedience followed.
So much has changed in the movement since we wrapped filming for “Papers” in June 2009 and I feel compelled to continue to document this history as it unfolds. In June 2011 in Atlanta, I went to film six young people “come out” as “undocumented and unafraid” inside the Georgia State Capitol. A capitol security guard said to me, “I have seen a lot of things. I have never seen anything like this.”
More than a hundred people marched around several downtown blocks to the Capitol to protest Georgia HB 87, an anti-immigrant law that criminalizes giving an undocumented immigrant a ride in a car, among other things, and that many fear will contribute to racial profiling. As the students stood at the corner in the sweltering heat before their civil disobedience action, one of the young women, a recent high school graduate, who was about to sit down in the middle of an intersection and risk injury, arrest and deportation, winked at me.
My response was a sudden exhalation of breath, somewhere between a chuckle and a sob. My job is to be an active witness, to put my camera and sometimes my body in the way of the madness going on right now. I believe that our job, as thinking, caring U.S. citizens is to step up as allies and follow the lead of these young leaders, to say enough is enough and to stop this absurd scapegoating of our young people and their hard-working parents.
We produced “Papers” as a tool to help make this untenable situation for undocumented youth real for thousands of viewers who have put their concern and outrage into action and have brought the issue into the forefront of political debate. Our scrappy crew could not ask for more.