Ever since the White House announced it was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, we’ve see how widely-held misconceptions have come to dominate the discussion regarding DREAMers and their future in the U.S. The Obama-era program was designed as an initiative that would allow undocumented immigrants who’d come into this country when they were much too young to be held accountable for such an action. It has since become a rallying point for those who, knowingly or not, spout off misleading claims about how DACA recipients siphon off government funds or steal jobs from “real” Americans.

What gets lost in the process, especially when we boil the issue down to statistics (close to 800,000 people will be affected by the government’s decision), are the specific stories of DACA recipients who, as Gael García Bernal recently put it, are often model citizens. If the American people are to stand up for DREAMers, we need to learn not just about their stories and their dreams (like that of becoming a film critic in the country they call home) but get informed as to how best to leverage direct action, civil disobedience, and grassroots organizing to affect change.

With that in mind, we’ve come up with a handy list of films that collectively help give context to what it means to live in the U.S. without papers. Think of these 15 documentaries as projects that shed light on these stories and serve as much needed educational tools that cut through any partisan ideas about undocumented immigrants in the U.S. You can learn about the perilous journeys these migrants make, get educated about how gender and sexuality crucially complicate their lives, and how everything from one’s education to working conditions become tied up in the fear and shame that often accompanies being undocumented. They are all available to stream on different platforms.

1

Which Way Home

Production Year 2009

Stream Which Way Home on Vudu.

Synopsis

This Academy Award-nominated documentary follows three children who make a dangerous trek through Mexico en route to the U.S. border, atop the dangerous train known as ‘la bestia,’ in hopes of reuniting with their parents.


Film Details

Director Rebecca Cammisa
Country United States
Genre Documentary
Production Year 2009
Running Time 82 minutes
2

Food Chains

Director Sanjay Rawal
Production Year 2014
Food Chains worker sign human too
'Food Chains' still courtesy of Netflix

Stream Food Chains on Hulu.

Synopsis

Fast food in America has come under attack, and rightly so. But that makes it easy to forget that there’s a dark side to even the healthier options. In his documentary Food Chains, Sanjay Rawal takes up the plight of migrant farmworkers by focusing on their fight in Immokalee, Florida. Forrest Whitaker narrates as the workers form the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, to push back against supermarket giants who essentially pressure farm owners to pay poverty wages. Eva Longoria executive-produced this film that’s a great follow-up to Harvest of Shame.

Danette Chavez

Film Details

Director Sanjay Rawal
Country United States
Genre Documentary
Writer Erin Barnett Sanjay Rawal
Producer Roberto Gonzalez Barrera Jonathan Cogut Eva Longoria
Production Year 2014
Running Time 83 minutes
3

The Hand That Feeds

Production Year 2014

Stream The Hand That Feeds YouTube, Amazon, and Google Play.

Synopsis

The Hand That Feeds is a thought-provoking and relevant film that ought to make viewers think twice about how they spend their money. Amid the Macs, crusty bagels, and caramel lattes on Manhattan’s Upper East Side café scene, a struggle is taking place. Immigrant workers organize themselves to fight a culture of exploitation and mistreatment that gives them zero rights and only slightly more in wages. Due to their undocumented status, they have come up against a brick wall in previous attempts to improve conditions, but this time, their determination builds into a popular movement that draws on the wider community, the courts, and Occupy Wall Street protestors.

Nick MacWilliam

Film Details

Director Rachel Lears Robin Blotnick
Country United States
Genre Documentary
Producer Patricia Benabe
Production Year 2014
Running Time 88 minutes
4

Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America

Production Year 2016

Stream Forbidden on Kanopy.

Synopsis

When Moises Serrano was a baby, his parents risked everything to flee Mexico in search of the American Dream. Growing up in the rural South as an undocumented gay man, forbidden to live and love in the country he calls home, Serrano sees only one option — to fight for justice and equality. Driven by a deep love for his family, who have come to accept being treated as invisible, Moises seeks to change the world.


Film Details

Director Tiffany Rhynard
Country United States
Genre Documentary
Writer Heather Mathews Tiffany Rhynard
Producer Heather Mathews Tiffany Rhynard
Production Year 2016
Running Time 90 minutes
5

Immigration Battle

Production Year 2015
House Democrats Discuss Implementation Of Obama's Executive Order On Immigration
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 13: Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) speaks about immigration during a news conference on Capitol Hill, January 9, 2015 in Washington, DC. Rep. Gutierrez talked about plans to help educate immigrant communities and prepare for the implementation of the executive actions on immigration announced by President Obama in last November. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Stream Immigration Battle on PBS.org.

Synopsis

Directors Michael Camerini and Shari Robertson build upon an extensive body of work documenting both sides of the struggle for immigration reform in this country with this profile of Illinois congressman Luis Gutiérrez. Born in Chicago to Puerto Rican parents, Gutiérrez has been one of the U.S. House of Representative’s most vocal voices for comprehensive immigration reform since he took office in 1993. Immigration Battle follows his astute political maneuvering during the attempted passage of a bi-partisan immigration reform bill that was sadly but unsurprisingly shot down by opportunist politicians feeding off of anti-immigrant sentiment.

Andrew S. Vargas

Film Details

Director Michael Camerini Shari Robertson
Country United States
Genre Documentary
Writer Michael Camerini Shari Robertson
Producer Michael Camerini Shari Robertson
Production Year 2015
Running Time 147 minutes
6

Sin País

Director Theo Rigby
Production Year 2010

Stream Sin País on Vimeo.

Synopsis

Nearly twenty years ago, Sam and Elida Mejia escaped Guatemala during a violent civil war and brought their one-year-old son to California. They worked hard, raised a family, and lived the American dream. Two years ago, immigration agents stormed the Mejias’ house and they have been fighting to stay in the U.S. ever since. Sin País begins two weeks before Sam and Elida are deported and the family is ripped apart. With intimate access and striking imagery, this short film explores the complexities of the Mejias’ new reality of a separated family – parents without their children, and children without their parents.


Film Details
Without Country
Director Theo Rigby
Country United States
Genre Short Film Documentary
Production Year 2010
Running Time 20 minutes
7

New American Girls

Production Year 2014

Stream New American Girls on PBS.org.

Synopsis

What is it like to grow up in a country that fails to recognize your status or citizenship, while classing you as “illegal,” in spite of your integration at all levels of culture and society? In this documentary series, three teenage girls (of Mexican, Peruvian, and Indian descent) brought to the U.S. by their parents at a young age describe their experiences as undocumented residents who feel American. Having excelled at school, the girls are subsequently unable to go to college, get jobs, or register in a system that impedes their sense of identity and damages their prospects. The situation has led to a national campaign for reform and state recognition of young people’s rights.

Nick MacWilliam

Film Details

Director Mitchell Teplitsky Betty Bastidas
Country United States
Genre Documentary Series Documentary
Production Year 2014
8

Who is Dayani Cristal?

Director Marc Silver
Country Mexico
Production Year 2013

Stream Who is Dayani Cristal on Netflix.

Synopsis

Produced and starring Gael García Bernal in what he’s called a “serious Borat,” this documentary begins in the Arizona desert where a body of a migrant is found with only one clue as to his identity: a tattoo that reads “Dayani Cristal.” In an attempt to retrace his path and discover his story, director Marc Silver and García Bernal embed themselves among migrant travelers on their own mission to cross the border, providing rare insight into the human stories which are so often ignored in the immigration debate. Giving audiences a front row seat to the ruthless journey migrants take in order to get into the U.S., Who is Dayani Cristal? offers a voice to those who have remained voiceless for too long.

Manuel Betancourt

Film Details

Director Marc Silver
Country Mexico
Genre Documentary
Writer Mark Monroe
Producer Thomas Benski Lucas Ochoa Gael García Bernal
Production Year 2013
Running Time 85 minutes
9

Beyond Borders

Director Micah Fink
Production Year 2016

Stream Beyond Borders on Vimeo.

Synopsis

Nearly 11 million people live in the US without the benefit of social and political rights, and the majority are Mexicans. Undocumented Mexican immigrants have become the public face of the anti-immigrant backlash now sweeping our country – and yet much of the national debate about their lives, their motivations, and their role in maintaining crucial sectors of the US economy – is deeply flawed.


Film Details

Director Micah Fink
Country United States
Genre Documentary
Writer Micah Fink Karen Sim
Producer Micah Fink
Production Year 2016
Running Time 72 minutes
10

Roadtrip Nation: Beyond the Dream

Production Year 2016
Beyond the Dream 14589714_10155370167552222_330018855663792530_o
'Beyond the Dream.' Courtesy of Roadtrip Nation Facebook page
Beyond the Dream 14692054_10155366758712222_930105520423857735_o
'Beyond the Dream.' Courtesy of Roadtrip Nation Facebook page

Stream Roadtrip Nation: Beyond the Dream on PBS.org.

Synopsis

Everyone seems to have a voice in the immigration debate—except immigrants, themselves. Hear immigrants tell their stories in their own words, on their own terms—and for the first time. Explore the immigrant experience through the eyes of Alexis, Rachel, and Pratishtha: three immigrants who were brought to this country at a young age, and have been temporarily granted partial—but not full—protection against deportation. Determined to clarify their futures despite their murky status, they set out to talk to fellow immigrants who’ve found success, learning that lines on a map don’t make you who you are. It’s not where you’re born, but where you go in life, that defines you.


Film Details

Director Alex Gomez Garcia
Country United States
Genre Documentary
Production Year 2016
Running Time 55 minutes
11

Don't Tell Anyone

Director Mikaela Shwer
Production Year 2015
no le diagas a nadie ask angy rivera 17213270322_d855a67183_o
Photo from 'Don't Tell Anyone' (No Le Digas a Nadie)

Stream Don’t Tell Anyone on PBS.org.

Synopsis

Since the age of 4, Angy Rivera has lived in the United States with a secret that threatens to upend her life: She is undocumented. Now 24 and facing an uncertain future, Rivera becomes an activist for undocumented youth with a popular advice blog and a YouTube channel boasting more than 27,000 views. She steps out of the shadows a second time to share her story of sexual abuse, an experience all too common among undocumented women. Don’t Tell Anyone (No Le Digas a Nadie) follows Rivera’s remarkable journey from poverty in rural Colombia to the front page of The New York Times.


Film Details
No Le Digas a Nadie
Director Mikaela Shwer
Country United States
Genre Documentary
Writer Mikaela Shwer
Production Year 2015
Running Time 75 minutes
12

Documented

Production Year 2013
Synopsis

Filipino Jose Antonio Vargas had achieved, in his own words, the American Dream. He had made a life for himself in the United States working as a journalist. But he lived with a secret: he was undocumented. Knowing that silence and shame are crucial to keeping this disenfranchised community from speaking out, he set out to make Documented. Borrowing from the journalistic segments you’re likely to see on CNN (which distributed the film), the documentary tells not only his own story but tries to change the narrative about how we think about undocumented Americans. “We mow your lawn, we work at your houses,” he says at one point in the film, “maybe we’re your doctors, maybe your nurses. We’re not who you think we are.”

Manuel Betancourt

Film Details

Director Jose Antonio Vargas Ann Raffaela Lupo
Country United States
Genre Documentary
Writer Jose Antonio Vargas
Producer Janet Yang
Production Year 2013
Running Time 89 minutes
13

Una Vida, Dos Países

Production Year 2015
Synopsis

This multilingual film (it’s in Spanish, English, and Zapotec) was created by and for educators. With the rising numbers of American-born Mexicans who have returned to Mexico, new challenges for the kids who have only known life in the U.S. have arisen. Una Vida, Dos Países presents the stories of these transborder youth, highlighting their experiences living between two countries, cultures, languages and education systems, and exploring their parents’ decisions to return to their home country after living undocumented in the US.

Manuel Betancourt

Film Details
One Life, Two Countries: Children and Youth (Back) in Mexico
Director Tatyana Kleyn Ben Donnellon
Country Mexico United States
Genre Documentary
Producer Rafael Vásquez William Perez Tatyana Kleyn
Production Year 2015
Running Time 30 minutes
14

The Other Side of Immigration

Director Roy Germano
Production Year 2009
Synopsis

Based on over 700 interviews in Mexican towns where about half the population has left to work in the United States, The Other Side of Immigration asks why so many Mexicans come to the U.S. and what happens to the families and communities they leave behind. Through an approach that is both subtle and thought-provoking, filmmaker Roy Germano provides a perspective on undocumented immigration rarely witnessed by American eyes, challenging audiences to imagine more creative and effective solutions to the problem.


Film Details

Director Roy Germano
Country United States
Genre Documentary
Writer Roy Germano
Producer Roy Germano
Production Year 2009
Running Time 55 minutes
15

Underwater Dreams

Director Mary Mazzio
Production Year 2104
underwater dreams
Fredi Lajvardi (Carl Hayden Teacher), Diserea Sanders (Carl Hayden student), Sergio Corral (Carl Hayden student), Martin Carranza (Carl Hayden student), and Isela Martinez (Carl Hayden student) with Stinky in the movie Underwater Dreams.
Synopsis

The inspirational, true-life tale of a rag-tag team of underprivileged Arizona high school kids who beat the odds and 10 years later inspired a Hollywood tribute starring George Lopez and Marisa Tomei. Mary Mazzio’s documentary relives the glorious day when the all-Latino team’s improvised, low-budget underwater robot swept a fancy national robotics competition where schools like MIT also happened to be competing. Featuring interviews with the team and their coaches, Underwater Dreams also explores the positive legacy these students – some of whom were undocumented immigrants – left on their peers.

Andrew S. Vargas

Film Details

Director Mary Mazzio
Country United States
Genre Documentary
Writer Mary Mazzio Jay Mazzio Carla Mazzio Robert Fitzgerald
Producer Mary Mazzio
Production Year 2104
Running Time 86 minutes