Perhaps the biggest surprise Oscar nomination on Tuesday was Demián Bichir in the best actor category for his portrayal of a Mexican undocumented immigrant.
In the film “A Better Life,” Bichir plays Carlos Galindo, a single father and gardener in Los Angeles struggling to build a brighter future for his American-born teen-aged son Luis. Carlos works long hours, hoping to save money to move to a neighborhood with a better school, so he isn’t around much to parent his son. Luis is losing interest in school and begins to skip classes and hang around gang members.
The movie traces the pursuit of the American dream, and shows how difficult it can be to obtain. It also addresses the emotional drama that unfolds when undocumented immigrant parents are deported and their children are left behind in the United States. This is a very timely issue since deportations reached the highest level in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement history in fiscal year 2011.
Like the characters Carlos and Luis, many immigrants live in “mixed-status” families. Researchers at the Pew Hispanic Center estimate that about 9 million people are in families that include at least one undocumented immigrant adult and at least one American-born child. The center estimates that the number of children with at least one undocumented parent has doubled since 2000.
As reporters, our goal should not just be to write about policy or test scores. Placing a human face on issues is also important. Admittedly, immigration is a tough topic to write about when so many immigrants are afraid to have their names printed in the newspaper.
How does a young person cope when their parent is deported? And when a parent is deported, how is it decided whether the children should remain in the United States or leave? If they stay, what is the impact on their emotional state and schooling?
I watched the movie just last weekend. Be forewarned, it’s a tearjerker.