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Films on Immigration
Immagrant Justice Month
"The weight and pain of leaving ones country and family behind, the risks of treacherously dangerous journeys when doing so, the difficulties in living lives where there is demand for your labor yet your actual presence is denied, all of this and more is captured in these films and documentaries. These stories, stories of people from Latin America, Sudan, the West Bank, Cambodia and Poland, are harrowing, and these struggles, too often ignored. Yet the human insistence to ascend from a place where others wish you did not exist, is palpable and inspiring. The reasons people choose to immigrate, like the languages they speak and the experiences they live, might be different, but one thing remains the same, they are human beings all the same. They are people who love, feel joy, feel pain, regret and hope. They are people like you, like me, and these are a few of their stories."
-- Francisco Baires, Community Programs Director (University YMCA at the University of Illinois)

Local Immigration resources:
C-U Immigration Forum - The Champaign-Urbana Immigration Forum is a group of immigrants, students, clergy, service providers, labor union representatives, local residents and community organizations concerned about the progress and plight of immigrants in our community.

Films on Immigration available at That's Rentertainment...

30 Days: Immigration (available on DVD)
2005, Running time: 60", official site, IMDb

The first episode of the second season of 30 Days, produced by Morgan Spurlock for FX Network, focuses on the issue of illegal immigration by having Frank George, a member of the Minuteman vigilante group that voluntarily patrols the United States/Mexico border, live with a family of illegals for a period of 30 days in order to understand their situation.

30 Days

The 800 Mile Wall (available on DVD)
Running Time: 90", (official site)

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. Since border walls have been built, well over 5,000 migrant bodies have been recovered in U.S. deserts, mountains and canals. Some unofficial reports put the death toll as high as 10,000 men, women and children. As a direct result of U.S. border policy, migrants are forced to cross treacherous deserts and mountains in search of low skill and low paying jobs in the United States. The New York Times writes, "Current border strategy is serving as a funnel through deadly terrain." The 800 Mile Wall documents, in great detail, the ineffective and deadly results of a failed border policy and offers some thoughts and on how the current human rights crisis may be resolved. Directed by John Carlos Frey and Produced by Jack Lorenz.

The 800 Mile Wall

9500 Liberty (available on DVD)
2009, Running time: 80", official site, IMDb

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.

9500 Liberty

Amreeka (available on DVD)
2009, Running time: 96", official site, IMDb

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.


Dying to Live: A Migrant's Journey (available on DVD)
2005, Running time: 33", official site, IMDb

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.

Dying to Live

El Norte (available on DVD and BluRay)
1983, Running time: 141", Criterion site, IMDb

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.

El Norte

Farmingville (available on DVD)
2004, Running time: 78", official site, IMDb

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.


The Gatekeeper (available on DVD)
2002, Running time : 103", Rated "R", official site, IMDb

The Gatekeepr is a true to life drama based on Drug Enforcement Agency and U.S. Border Patrol reports as well as countless first hand accounts of hopeful migrant struggles. Adam Fields, a U.S. Border Patrol Agent despises undocumented immigrants and will do anything to keep them at bay. He expresses his hate by moonlighting with an extremist anti-immigrant group. Adam hatches a plan to go undercover as an undocumented immigrant and expose how easy it is to cross the border. His plan goes terribly wrong and Adam gets trapped within a well organized drug and human smuggling ring. Unable to reveal his true identity without certain death, he must continue his role as a Mexican Immigrant. Forced to live and work amongst the people he has so vehemently hated, Adam starts to see their humanity and their plight. Adam begins to grow in compassion and eventually tries to master a plan of liberty for all.

The Gatekeeper is the recipient of ten national and international film festivals awards as well as recognition from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, NCLR, Conslulates of Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala for it's accurate depiction of border issues. The Gatekeeper cast includes: John Carlos Frey, Michelle Agnew, Anne Betancourt, Joel Brooks, J. Patrick McCormack, Joe Pascual and Tricia O’Kelley. Written, directed and produced by John Carlos Frey. Executive Producer - Jack Lorenz. Rated “R”

The Gatekeeper

God Grew Tired of Us (available on DVD)
2006, Running time: 89", official site, IMDb

Produced by Brad Pitt and narrated by Nicole Kidman this acclaimed documentary chronicles the experiences of Sudanese refugees and their relocation to the United States. A poignant and inspiring work that highlights some of the barriers faced by strangers in our land.

God Grew Tired of Us

The Invisible Chapel (available on DVD)
Running time: 31" (extras 22"), official site

For over twenty years a migrant chapel remained invisible to the wealthy residents of a San Diego, CA neighborhood. Every Sunday, parish volunteers provided humanitarian assistance and held a church service for over one hundred impoverished agricultural, construction, and service industry workers from Mexico. Local neighbors, along with the San Diego Minutemen and a Talk-Radio host clashed with the mostly undocumented immigrant congregation. The ensuing conflict forced the migrants and volunteers out of their sacred space and ultimately caused the demolition of their long- standing place of worship. Filmmaker John Carlos Frey captures the enduring story of faith and perseverance pitted against fear and the heated immigration debate in this beautiful 31 minute documentary film, The Invisible Chapel.

DVD Extras include interviews with Bishop Gerald Barnes, Amanda Susskind (ADL), Attorney Claudia Smith (CRLAF), Daniel Groody, CSC (Notre Dame), & Migrant Healthcare Advocate Michael Akong.

The Invisible Chapel

The Invisible Mexicans of Deer Canyon (available on DVD)
Running time: 73", official site

The Invisible Mexicans of Deer Canyon is an in depth look at what life is like for millions of undocumented immigrants living in the shadows of American society. This full-length documetary film portrays intimate details of several individual day laborers who live in sub-human conditions amongst multi-million dollar homes.

Raul, Jose and Jesus work general construction. Pedro works in the local tomato and strawberry fields as a farmworker while Carlos works as a groundskeeper at a world-famous five star resort. All of the men earn minimum wage and work part time or seasonally. Their meager weekly salaries are saved and sent to family members back home in Mexico. The men cut back on expenses by living outdoors in shacks constructed of plastic tarps, cardboard and scrap lumber.

Filmmaker, John Carlos Frey captures the daily struggles, triumphs and spirit of the undocumented Mexican immigrants living and working quietly amongst some of the wealthiest regions of America. The Invisible Mexicans of Deer Canyon is a never before seen expose of migrant life and the untold side of the immigration debate.

The Invisible Mexicans

The Least of These (available on DVD)
2009, Running time: 62", official site, IMDb

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. 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.

The Least of These

Made in L.A. (available on DVD)
2007, Running time: 70", official site, IMDb

Made in L.A. is an Emmy award-winning feature documentary that follows the remarkable story of three Latina immigrants working in Los Angeles garment sweatshops as they embark on a three-year odyssey to win basic labor protections from a trendy clothing retailer. In intimate verite style, Made in L.A. reveals the impact of the struggle on each woman’s life as they are gradually transformed by the experience. Compelling, humorous, deeply human, Made in L.A. is a story about immigration, the power of unity, and the courage it takes to find your voice.

Made In L.A.

One Border One Body (available on DVD)
Running time : 30", official site

In the dry, rugged, and sun-scorched terrain where many immigrants lose their lives, bishops, priests and lay people come together each year to celebrate the Eucharist. Like other liturgies, they pray and worship together. Unlike other liturgies, a sixteen-foot iron fence divides this community in half, with one side in Mexico and the other in the United States. One Border, One Body tells the story of a ritual that unites people beyond political constructions which divide them. Amidst a desert of death and a culture of fear, it testifies to God’s universal, undivided, and unrestricted love for all people. It speaks of the gift and challenge of Christian faith and the call to feed the world’s hunger for peace, justice and reconciliation. More than just another documentary on immigration, This film is a meditation on the Kingdom of God, a globalization of solidarity, and a journey of hope. Directed by John Carlos Frey with Executive Producers Fr. Daniel Groody, CSC and Jack Lorenz.

One Border One Body

Papers: Stories of Undocumented Youth (available on DVD)
2009, Running time: 88", official site

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.

Papers: Stories of Undocumented Youth

Precious Knowledge (available on DVD)
2011, Running time: 75", official site, IMDb

Precious Knowledge is a documentary examining Arizona's battle over ethnic studies. Precious Knowledge interweaves the stories of students in the Mexican American Studies Program at Tucson High School. According to the film's makers, 48 percent of Mexican American students currently drop out of high school. In contrast, the filmmakers show Tucson High's Mexican American Studies Program became a national model of educational success, with an average of 93 percent of enrolled students graduating from high school and 85 percent going on to attend college. The documentary crew spent an entire year in the classroom filming this innovative social justice curriculum, documenting the transformative impact on students who become engaged, informed and active in their communities.

Precious Knowledge

Sentenced Home (available on DVD)
2006, Running time: 76", official site, IMDb

Putting a human face on controversial immigration policy, 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. Caught between their tragic pasts and an uncertain future, each young man confronts a legal system that offers no second chances.

Sentenced Home

Strangers No Longer (available on DVD)
Running time: 16" or 22", official site

This documentary puts contemporary immigration in the context of American history and shows how Churches in the United States are welcoming new members from different cultures and backgrounds. "Strangers no Longer" invites us to open our hearts and minds and identify with today's immigrants. It invites us to look into our past and notice the similarities that exist between ourselves and our ancestors when they came to this great land and those who are arriving now. We are made aware of the many global implications that cause people to migrate the the USA, including our need for more workers. It helps us to understand problems that exist with our current immigration system and underlines different solutions and activities that can be undertaken to fix what is broken. It reminds us of our moral responsibility to actively live our faith and our obligation to be a voice of change so that newcomers are strangers no longer. The film was produced by Fr. Daniel Groody, csc in collaboration with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Groody River Films. Spanish subtitles menu option Discussion guide available at

Strangers No Longer

Tony & Janina's American Wedding (available on DVD)
2010, Running time: 83", official site, IMDb

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.

Tony & Janina's American Wedding

Under the Same Moon (available on DVD)
2007, Running time: 106", IMDb

Feature film. UNDER THE SAME MOON (LA MISMA LUNA) tells the parallel stories of nine-year-old Carlitos and his mother, Rosario. In the hopes of providing a better life for her son, Rosario works illegally in the U.S. while her mother cares for Carlitos back in Mexico. Unexpected circumstances drive both Rosario and Carlitos to embark on their own journeys in a desperate attempt to reunite. Along the way, mother and son face challenges and obstacles but never lose hope that they will one day be together again. A romantic heart lifting story that puts a human face on the immigration debate. Spanish with English subtitles.

Under the Same Moon

The Visitor (available on DVD and BluRay)
2007, Running Time: 104", official site, IMDb

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.

The Visitor

Wetback: The Undocumented Documentary (available on DVD)
2005, Running time: 90", official site, IMDb

Filmmaker Arturo Perez Torres follows in the footsteps of two friends traveling from Central America to North America. Film shows the motivation and the dangers of migration. Winner of several awards including Chicago Latino Film Festival and Cinequest Film Festival. 91 minutes. National Geographic. Spanish with English subtitles.

Wetback: The Undocumented Documentary
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