Undocumented Immigrants–Changing the Dialogue

Panel at screening of "Documented"


By Dakota Damschroder

On September 30th, Emerson College hosted a screening of Documented: a film by an illegal immigrant undocumented American. The documentary tells Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas’s coming out story as an undocumented immigrant. Ann Raffaela Lupo, the producer, introduced the viewing in a brief Skype call.

A heated panel discussion followed the film about the struggles of immigrants and the importance of the movement for change, featuring panelists Matt Cameron, a Boston immigration attorney, Justin Nguyen Phuoc, a member of the Student Immigrant Movement (SIM), and Cindy Rodriguez, a journalist-in-residence at Emerson. Each emphasized that progress requires a shift in thinking.

Phuoc, an undocumented immigrant from Vietnam, said there has already been a change in the language surrounding immigration. Both Cameron and Rodriguez, however, noted a long road still ahead. As a journalist active in immigration reform, Rodriguez sees how the media influences the conversation.

“Stories become quick-hit reaction pieces to negative events,” she said. “Fear is a tactic used when you don’t want to fix the problem. You blame the immigrants.”

Cameron added that people “can’t get past the rhetoric.”

“A majority of people believe there should be a path to citizenship,” he said.

The issue, he said, is that many do not understand how little can actually be done, and suggested a conversation needs to happen to eradicate ignorance.

“We don’t have any rational adults who can have that conversation. We have Congress,” Cameron joked.
Congress passed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows those who immigrated to the US as children and are undocumented to stay for two years without fear of deportation, but more reform is still needed. With students’ help, Emerson College hopes to be a part of this change.

Those interested in supporting immigrant rights in Massachusetts can contact SIM or the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition.

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