Documented, 2013, USA/Philippines
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas came out as an undocumented immigrant in 2011. Since then he has been acting as an advocate for immigration reform in the USA through his project Define American. This documentary is just another step in his advocacy process. Through telling his story, he hopes to raise awareness of the issues undocumented Americans face, and bring forth immigration reform.
The documentary tells Vargas’ personal story. He came to America to live with his grandparents (both legal immigrants) when he was 12, and discovered at 16 that his immigration papers were fakes and that he was an undocumented immigrant. For years, he kept this secret and lived in fear of being discovered, but went through college and worked a number of jobs without his secret being discovered. Eventually, he decided to out himself, and dedicate his life to working to bring change to the immigration system.
Documented is best when we see Vargas out in the community, talking to ordinary Americans about the issue of immigration. There is a lot of misconceptions about immigration, and Vargas sought to show people that he is contributing to the American economy, and paying taxes, despite not being a legal American. This is the case for many undocumented American residents. There are also no avenues for a person of Vargas’ age to go through in order to get legal residency (the Dream Act was passed during the course of shooting this documentary and is covered in the film).
I do wish Vargas had a few more subjects with similar stories. A few undocumented immigrants are briefly shown, and he even speaks to some, but we don’t hear any detailed stories. It’s understandable why this is the case; Vargas is a public figure and immensely successful, and as a result, is unlikely to be persecuted by immigration officials. However, an “average” undocumented immigrant could very well find themselves in trouble for appearing in this film.
Vargas is a likable subject, and the audience will find themselves rooting for him, and sympathizing with his story. By being as open and honest as he is, we gain an understanding of the challenges and sacrifices Vargas and his family made. For instance, he has not seen his mother since he was 12-years-old, something that has understandably had an impact on his relationship with her.
Documented was a powerful film about a subject I knew little about. It’s available to rent on Apple TV.