Telling the stories of undocumented youth

A new documentary that depicts the struggles of undocumented immigrant youths and the effort to help them become citizens will be screened on Tuesday in Gardena.

The film, “Papers,” features interviews with five undocumented immigrant youths as well as with teachers, politicians and immigration experts. Much of the film discusses the efforts to pass the federal DREAM Act, which would offer a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have served in the military or completed two years of higher education.

A discussion with director Anne Galisky and others will follow the screening of the film.

In an interview last week, Galisky said she and her partner, producer Rebecca Shine, pressed to finish the film quickly. They shot their final footage at a June rally in Washington, D.C., in support of the DREAM Act and finished the film in September.

“We were responding to the urgency young people have been telling us that they have about this issue,” she said.

Galisky and Shine, of Portland, Ore., began to develop the idea for “Papers” two years ago. They both had mentored high school students and had heard the stories of Latino youths who lacked citizenship and were faced with limits on what they could do after graduation.

California’s response

Undocumented immigrants can attend school through 12th grade and in some states, including California, are eligible for in-state tuition at public colleges through Assembly Bill 540. But lacking a Social Security number, they cannot get federal financial aid or work legally.

As they started talking about making the movie, the filmmakers also were concerned about local ballot measures targeting undocumented immigrants and the Oregon governor’s decision to issue an executive order tightening rules for receiving driver’s licenses.

According to “Papers,” 12 million undocumented immigrants live in the U.S., including two million children. In the film, teachers talk about how many students begin their high school careers working hard in school, only to be discouraged when they understand the barriers they face to getting a college education and pursuing careers.

The problem doesn’t just affect Latino youths. One of the students in the film is Asian while another is from Jamaica.

All of the students who tell their stories are identified in the film only by their first names. One, Monica, is now living in the United States legally, but the rest all could be deported and took a risk by appearing in the film, Galisky said.

She said telling their stories seemed to help those who felt depressed about their circumstances.

“It feels good to speak out and to not be in hiding,” Galisky said.

DREAM Act’s future

The DREAM Act, or the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, was first introduced in Congress in 2001. Some urge the passage of the legislation before addressing more sweeping immigration reform. Others want to focus on comprehensive reform to the nation’s immigration system. At a town meeting a few weeks ago at California State University-Dominguez Hills with the White House officials studying ways to improve education opportunities for Latino youth, officials said the Obama administration plans to reintroduce a version of the DREAM Act, but the White House is in the midst of conversations whether to include the legislation in immigration reform or in the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.

Galisky said she would like to see some type of victory for immigration rights activists, but isn’t urging a particular approach.

“My job is to bring the subject to the awareness of the broader community,” she said.

“Papers” will be shown at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Gardena Cinema, 14948 Crenshaw Boulevard, Gardena. Doors will open at 6 p.m. for a pre-show, featuring music and a few short videos. After the film there will be a panel discussion including Galisky; William Perez, a professor of education at Claremont Graduate University; and a representative from the office of U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.
Tickets are $5. Information: 310-217-0505. To learn more about the movie, visit