Taken from Standing on the Side of Love: The UUA has compiled a list of powerful films that are ideal for educating yourself, your family, your friends, and, if applicable, your congregation on immigration-related issues. Whether you’re just looking for an entry point on the crucial human rights topics related to immigration or seeking a backdrop to a community-wide dialogue that may spur policy change, these films are some of the best.

Films on Immigration

Chosen based on quality and/or subject breadth, these movies touch on many different aspects of immigration. Don’t feel you need to watch all of them. Start with one that sounds interesting, or pick a few that cover different topics and have an Immigration Film Fest.

  • Detained: The New Bedford Immigration Raid
    On March 6, 2007, workers at a New Bedford factory producing vests for the U.S. military were arrested in a raid conducted by Immigration, Customs and Enforcement (ICE) officers. Of the 361 undocumented immigrants arrested that day, the majority were women, many with small children. Detained follows families affected by the immigration raid.
  • The Fence
    In Oct. 2006, the U.S. government decided to build a 700-mile fence along its troubled 2000-mile-plus border with Mexico. Three years, 19 construction companies, 350 engineers, thousands of construction workers, tens of thousands of tons of metal and $3 billion later, was it all worth it? Rory Kennedy’s latest HBO documentary investigates the impact of the project, revealing how its stated goals – containing illegal immigration, cracking down on drug trafficking and protecting America from terrorists – have given way to unforeseen, even absurd consequences. (A lesson plan is available.)
  • Lost in Detention
    FRONTLINE and the Investigative Reporting Workshop examine the Obama administration’s controversial get-tough immigration policy. Producer Maria Hinojosa will be the 2012 Ware Lecturer.
  • Some Things Should Never Be For Sale
    This ten-minute documentary will explore the rising tide of privatization in our criminal justice and immigrant detention systems. Rather than focus on politics, it will use the words of those incarcerated, working, or living in communities with these private facilities to start a conversation about this practice. Because these men, women, and children have no voice in the debate on privatization – and no safety from retribution – their words will be shared by a diverse group of volunteers who read their stories on-screen – and contrast their struggles with their own lives. Launched by Donna Red Wing: Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership.
  • Farmingville
    The documentary Farmingville tells the story of a suburban, Long Island town named Farmingville that made national headlines in the early-2000s when conflict over a sudden influx of Mexican day laborers tore the town in two. It’s the unique story of one particular town’s response to change and conflict, but it is also a story of unresolved national questions about labor, the economy, and immigration that are probably playing out in your communities, too. (A discussion guide (PDF, Page 10) is available.
  • Made in L.A.
    Determined to win basic protections in the Los Angeles sweatshops where they work, three Latina immigrants embark on a three year odyssey that will transform their lives forever. From April 15th and May 31st, 2009, the filmmakers are inviting national organizations, grassroots groups, congregations and individuals across the country to organize screenings, house parties, and actions around Made in L.A. in a nationwide effort to support humane immigration reform. Learn more about the Community Screening Campaign. (A discussion guide (PDF, Page 6) is available.
  • Dying to Live: A Migrant’s Journey
    A profound look at the human face of the immigrant. This film explores who these people are, why they leave their homes and what they face in their journey. Drawing on the insights of Pulitzer Prize winning photographers, theologians, Church and congressional leaders, activists, musicians and the immigrants themselves, this film exposes the places of conflict, pain and hope along the US-Mexico border. It is a reflection on the human struggle for a more dignified life and the search to find God in the midst of that struggle.  (A discussion guide (PDF, Page 8) is available.)
  • Papers: The Movie
    This film tells the stories of some of the 65,000 undocumented youth and the challenges they face as they turn 18 without legal status. These are young people who were educated in American schools, hold American values, know only the U.S. as home and who, upon high school graduation, find the door to their future slammed shut. Without “papers,” it is against the law to work or drive. It is difficult, if not impossible in some states, to attend college. They live at risk of arrest, detention and deportation to countries they may not even remember. Currently, there is no path to citizenship for these young people.
  • 9500 Liberty
    Prince William County, Virginia becomes ground zero in America’s explosive battle over immigration policy when elected officials adopt a law requiring police officers to question anyone they have “probable cause” to suspect is an undocumented immigrant. 9500 Liberty reveals the startling vulnerability of a local government, targeted by national anti-immigration networks using the Internet to frighten and intimidate lawmakers and citizens.
  • Tony & Janina’s American Wedding
    After 18 years in America, Tony and Janina Wasilewski’s family is torn apart when Janina is deported back to Poland, taking their 6 year old son Brian with her. Set on the backdrop of the Chicago political scene, and featuring Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez at the heart of the immigration reform movement, this film follows the Wasilewski’s 3-year struggle to be reunited. With a fresh perspective on the immigration conversation, this film tells the untold human rights story of Post-9/11, that every undocumented immigrant in America faces today, with the power to open the conversation for change.
  • The Visitor
    In this fictional drama, an American college professor and a young immigrant couple grapple with the treatment of immigrants and the legal process post-9/11. The film makers are using the film to call attention to issues of due process, detention and deportation. Learn more about what you can do in response. (A discussion guide (PDF, Page 4) is available.)
  • Amreeka
    Amreeka chronicles the adventures of Muna, a single mother who leaves the West Bank with her teenage son Fadi, for dreams of a better life in America. They land in a small town in Illinois, where Muna’s sister lives. At turns funny and heartbreaking, the movie portrays the tensions of adapting to the new country, including the kind of prejudice experienced by Arab-Americans particularly around issues of loyalty to the United States and ethnic stereotyping. The movie also portrays the joys. Amreeka is a universal journey into the lives of immigrant families caught between their heritage and the new world in which they now live and the bittersweet search for a place to call home.
  • The Least of These
    Detention of immigrant children in a former medium-security prison in Texas leads to controversy when three activist attorneys discover troubling conditions at the facility. Watch free online at SnagFilms. Running time is just over one hour, making this a good film for a discussion night event that can fit into easily into peoples’ schedules.
  • abUSed: The Postville Raid
    This full-length documentary tells the story of one of the largest Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) workplace raids ever by weaving together the personal stories of individuals, families, and townspeople directly affected by the events of May 12, 2008. Although the full video is not yet released, the 8 minute trailer on the website is very powerful.
  • The 800 Mile Wall
    The 800 Mile Wall highlights the construction of the new border walls along the U.S.-Mexico border as well as the effect on migrants trying to cross into the U.S. This powerful 90-minute film is an unflinching look at a failed U.S. border strategy that many believe has caused the death of thousands of migrants and violates fundamental human rights.
  • Sentenced Home
    Sentenced Home follows three young Cambodian Americans through the deportation process. Raised in inner city Seattle, they pay an unbearable price for mistakes they made as teenagers.
  • El Norte
    Released in 1983 and nominated for an Oscar, the film is a classic. It tells the story of two young Guatemalans (Mayan Indians) who survive a military attack on their village. They make a harrowing journey through Mexico and across the border into Los Angeles only to find that “el Norte” is not all that it’s rumored to be. While fictional, the movie dutifully depicts the reallife plight of Guatemalan and Salvadoran refugees of the 1980s, caught between brutally repressive regimes at home and a U.S. that generally refused to grant asylum. Due to its age, this movie does not have a website. Look for it in you local library.
About the Author
Melissa Saggerer

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