Living Undocumented, Netflix’s new six-part docuseries about undocumented immigrants in the US, highlights a number of struggles eight families have endured while navigating their immigration status under the Trump administration.
According to executive producers Aaron Saidman and Anna Chai, the series isn’t supposed to be “explicitly political." They instead wanted to focus on these families’ human experiences and on “people who come here and better their lives and better the country.”
But as we head into the 2020 presidential election, the filmmakers said these stories are especially important.
“We’ve been struggling with what to do about immigration for decades. It’s always going to be important every time there’s an election,” Saidman told Buzzfeed News. “Immigration is a really contentious issue and unfortunately, I think it’s been made more contentious by politicians that have been using it to divide public opinion about what we should do about it.”
Saidman said that politicians and the general public are in agreement that the immigration system is currently broken, but “there are really strong opinions on both sides about exactly how to fix it.”
“I think on a deeper level it really cuts to fundamental questions of who we are as a country, and who we want to be as a country going forward, and what it means to be an American, and how do we define that for a nation that’s been built by immigrants?”
In the new Netflix series, which premiered on the streaming service on Oct. 2 and is also produced by pop star Selena Gomez, President Donald Trump is a major point of contention for one family in particular. Alejandra Juarez, who came to the US seeking asylum in 1998 from Mexico, faced deportation despite her husband, Temo, being an ex-Marine. Temo also voted for Trump in the 2016 election and supported the president’s proposals for tougher immigration policies, something Alejandra didn’t agree with, but the Juarez family did not think this would directly affect them.
In the third episode of the series, Alejandra is deported back to Mexico, bringing her 9-year-old daughter Estela with her and leaving her 16-year-old daughter Pamela and husband behind.
“Our marriage prior to this administration was great,” Alejandra Juarez says in the docuseries. “I know I have to put this aside and be like, OK, he voted for Donald Trump, but he didn’t know that Donald Trump was going to deport people like me. ... He didn’t know that he was going to deport his wife.”
Chai told BuzzFeed News that the dynamic between Alejandra and Temo Juarez was something “a lot of us were curious about."
While the stakes were high for their family, Chai said a lot of couples can relate to their political disagreements. “Her husband served in the military and she thought she was protected, as do a lot of people,” Chai said.
“I think she was surprised that this was happening to her, and I think they as a couple were trying to figure out what that meant for them," she added. "There’s something compelling about that because that’s a very universal thing. Couples fighting about politics is not unusual, at least not in this day and age, and seeing that play out — they were so brave.”
Saidman said the Juarez family is an important representation of how “immigrant communities are not monolithic” and don’t all share the same political views, “just like every other community in America.”
“I think it speaks to the importance of holding your leaders to account. That family was torn about by that policy, but they were surprised and didn’t think it would be an issue that Temo voted for Trump,” Saidman said.
“People believe what their leaders tell them. People believe what politicians say and promise them, and Trump said that he would only deport the ‘bad hombres’ — and that turned out not to be the case.”
As Americans gear up to vote another presidential candidate into office, Saidman said he thinks “we’re at a fever pitch of sorts” when it comes to addressing the issues involved with undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
“There is a focus on the policy of the current administration, but the truth is that many presidents have struggled and have not been successful on solving the immigration issue,” Saidman said. “It’s almost like the buck keeps getting passed to the next president without real solutions being implemented.”