With the recent decision by the Trump administration to rescind DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), the lives of 800,000 undocumented young people and their families have been thrown into complete disarray. New Day filmmakers Brenda Avila-Hanna and Corey Ohama have been monitoring the proceedings closely for some time now. As the directors of two films that feature undocumented young people known as “DREAMers,” they understood full well how devastating the administration’s decision could be to DACA recipients and their communities.
This September, in solidarity with DREAMers across the country, the two directors are offering free streams of their short films Vida Diferida (Life, deferred) and I Was Born in Mexico, But…. on their website www.dreamerdocs.com. We spoke to the filmmakers to learn more about their projects and the impact of recent events on their subjects.
New Day (ND): What drove you to create your films?
Brenda: I met Vanessa, the subject of Vida Diferida (Life, deferred), when I was a middle school teacher and Vanessa was one of my students. I began to notice that over the years, her aspirations of becoming a doctor and her excellent grades took a backseat to preparing to live an adulthood in the shadows because she was undocumented. As an immigrant myself, I realized that she was an American in every way except in paper, yet she didn’t have a shot at acquiring legal residency like I did. How was it possible that someone so deserving had to settle for so little in the land that she loved? Why did the immigration system favor some and block so many others?
Corey: My film I Was Born in Mexico, But… is centered on the voice of a young woman who lives in my small hometown in Northern California and whom I’ve known for several years. Because I’ve had experience working in a local tax business, she approached me and asked for help applying for an ITIN number (a number that undocumented people use to legally file their tax returns). I was caught off guard– it had never crossed my mind that she might be undocumented. We ended up having a long talk and I got my first clear picture of the incredible challenges faced by these young people who are forced to live in a kind of legal limbo.
ND: How has DACA affected your subjects’ lives?
Corey: I interviewed my subject before DACA was even created. There were no work permits and no driver’s licenses. It was hard for undocumented young people to envision their futures. The psychological stresses were intense—from having to worry about getting pulled over while driving, to feeling rejected by the country you loved. DACA helped a lot. It took away the everyday fears and provided a work permit: my subject was able to get a professional license in the field she studied. Now, of course, with DACA being rescinded, everything is up in the air again.
Brenda: The original concept for the film was to document Vanessa’s transition into adulthood and the gradual shift in goals and aspirations due to her undocumented status. A few years into documenting this, DACA happened. As a 17-year-old young woman, Vanessa had to make the decision to share her entire family history with the U.S. government. In spite of the potential risks, her family supported her decision. Immigration law can be so complex and dehumanizing. This film also reflects on the fact that for every DACA recipient, there is a loving family and community taking on a enormous risk and embarking on an emotional roller coaster.
ND: Where do we go from here?
Corey: Education around immigration is so important. Almost one out of every four children in the U.S. is an immigrant or a child of immigrants. Because our nation is making the crucial decision right now what the future of these young people will be, we wanted to make our films available to be part of the discussion. You can help by viewing the films and sharing them with your students, colleagues and communities. See for yourself how personal stories can break down barriers, stimulate discussion and foster understanding about issues like immigration that are often contentious and abstract. I also recommend checking out these other films in the New Day collection that feature undocumented youth or parents: I Learn America, Sin País (Without Country), Life on the Line, and Abrazos.
Brenda: For those who want to get directly involved, you can encourage Congress to pass legislation to grant permanent protection and a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers. Call your representatives and show up at town halls. Attend rallies! Use social media to amplify the voices of the DREAMers who lead the movement (#heretostay). For a centralized, reliable source of information on DACA and a concrete list of actions visit www.weareheretostay.org, www.unitedwedream.org and www.defineamerican.com.
To purchase the films for your classroom or library, visit New Day Films. Enter the promo code DACA15 at checkout for a 15% discount.