After her Netflix documentary series Living Undocumented started streaming on Wednesday, Selena Gomez said she wanted to use her celebrity platform to speak out about the plight of undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
“A huge part of why I wanted to be a part of this is to also be a voice for so many people who can’t and are terrified to speak about it,” Gomez said in a new behind the scenes video provided exclusively to BuzzFeed News.
The pop star served as an executive producer on the six-part series which follows eight undocumented families across the US under the Trump administration. Viewers watch as some await their check-in appointments with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) while others manage the daily difficulties of being an undocumented immigrant. Some people were even deported back to the countries they were born in during the filming of the docuseries, with viewers watching families be ripped apart as their loved ones return to countries where they know no one and have nothing.
In the wake of Living Undocumented’s release, Gomez has been outspoken about her family’s experience immigrating from Mexico. In an op-ed for Time, she wrote about how her aunt crossed the US-Mexico border while hidden in the back of a truck and her grandparents followed. Eventually, Gomez’s father was born in the US.
“My grandparents are immigrants and to just think about the life that I’ve been given and how blessed I am,” Gomez says in the video. “My hope is that I see change.”
In this latest video, Gomez has a roundtable discussion with three young people who are featured in the docuseries about what their lives have been like since filming stopped.
Brothers Pablo and Camilo Dunoyer from San Diego County, California, talked about how their father, Roberto, was deported to Colombia despite having lived in the US since 2002. The Dunoyer family came to the States seeking asylum because their family was receiving violent threats from narco-guerilla gang members. Now, Pablo and Camilo say their family has been torn apart and they’re both terrified about what the future holds for them.
Bar, whose parents came to the US from Israel in 2001 and who did not include her last name in the docuseries because she didn’t want to be easily identified, said she was robbed after cameras stopped following her around for the docuseries. She didn’t report the robbery, however, because she didn’t want to be on the police radar.
“Personally hearing all of these things that you guys are not able to enjoy about the country that I live in is very difficult,” Gomez said to the teens through tears.
All three teenagers expressed a common feeling of fear and uncertainty about their own futures in the United States, unsure of what’s still to come.
“I just think you are wonderful people,” Gomez said. “And I want you to stay.”
Living Undocumented executive producer and director Aaron Saidman told BuzzFeed News that in making the documentary and interacting with its subjects he found himself “renewed by their spirit.”
“These are people that are really pursuing the American Dream and they’re doing so against such difficult odds,” Saidman said. “I expected on some level to be moved emotionally, since these are pretty harrowing stories, but there is also an undercurrent of patriotism and optimism in their struggle to still want to stay here in this country and to want to be a part of the fabric of our society. I found it uplifting and inspirational in the midst of all the sadness.”
For Anna Chai, another director of the documentary, one of the more striking things about Living Undocumented is how is it “captures in images the kind of stress and the fear that these immigrants live with.”
“For the parents, they chose to come here. That’s a decision they made, but the kids, they came over as little kids. They didn’t necessarily have a say in the matter,” Chai told BuzzFeed News. “And now they’re living with all these extra stresses I certainly didn’t have when I was in high school."
"When you hear about stories in the United States about what struggles teens are facing, it’s like, cyberbullying or too much social media or college admissions," she said. "But these kids have an extra layer of fear and the unknown that I just hadn’t really seen before.”