“Documented” Is A Powerful Film Highlighting The Plight of Undocumented Workers in America

Mark Zuckerberg’s FWD.us immigration group held a screening today of “Documented”, the film by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas about undocumented Americans.

Facebook’s CEO took the stage prior to the premiere to talk make some comments about the cause he has put money and resources into. He highlighted his personal take on the issue — speaking about how his wife helped him set up a program at a local school where he could get involved in causes rather than just simply supporting them.

During his time teaching, Zuckerberg encountered a young student who told him that he
couldn’t go to college because he was an undocumented worker. When probing a bit further, the Facebook CEO discovered that more students in the classroom were also in the same situation — this helped to motivate him to encourage friends in the tech industry to help lead the charge for reform.

FWD.us president and founder Joe Green also addressed the crowd and told them that people have been engaging in good faith to talk about the immigration issue. In short, he said that the message to the film was “immigration is who we are.”

Green said that he, along with Zuckerberg, agreed to comprehensive immigration reform, choosing not to stop at improving tech visas. They both felt that this was necessary so that everyone could live the American dream.

Screening the “Documented”

“Documented” was produced by Vargas’ production studio Define American in collaboration with FWD.us. The film’s website provides this synopsis: Vargas chronicles his journey to the United States from the Philippines as a child, his experience as a reform activist and reconnecting with his mother whom he hasn’t seen in 20 years.

Vargas says that his movie is not about Silicon Valley engineers, but also about the children affected by immigration cases and mothers with hopes of a better life.

His goal was to provide a narrative that people could relate to. His parting words before the movie began: “As far as I’m concerned, I’m an American. I’m just waiting for my country to catch up and recognize me as one.”

The movie looks at Vargas’ life after he “outed” himself in a New York Times article entitled “Outlaw”. We watched as traversed the country speaking about immigration reform, understanding the 2012 presidential candidates’ thoughts about undocumented workers, and all the while, fearing that law enforcement would come and take him away — yet years after publicly revealing his secret, he has yet to be contacted by authorities.

Here’s a trailer of the film:

Watching the movie was a rather poignant reminder of how many people are in the country illegally, many that are just trying to make a living, pay their taxes, and become citizens of the country. It highlights the enormous pressure that these undocumented workers have in their lives, fearing deportation or having to deal with never having to see their loved ones for an extended period of time, just like Vargas has (it’s been 20 years since he’s seen his mother in the Philippines).

Candid conversations

After the movie, Vargas and Green took the stage to hold a panel discussion about his film. He was joined on stage by Dreamer and Bridge Project founder Gaby Pacheco, and two FWD.us founders Ruchi Sanghvi and Andrew Mason.

Vargas explained that he was afraid of producing the film — he didn’t want it to be a vanity act, but rather to be about the millions of children who are struggling to be in the US. He was prompted to have it be about him too and feature his mom, highlighting the broken family paradigm many are dealing with.

The move to make it a personal story helped to move it beyond politics, whether you’re a Republican or Democrat.

On the subject of criticism the tech community has received that the bill pushed by lobbyists will only bring immigrants to help bolster companies in Silicon Valley and potentially lower wages, the panelists disputed that aim. Sanghvi says that the the Congressional Budget Office has estimated the Senate bill that passed will help drive creation of several thousand jobs in the country. She called anything on the contrary as a myth.

About FWD.us

FWD.us launched in April as the US congress was moving forward with trying to figure out immigration reform. The organization was joined by the likes of venture capitalist Ron Conway, John Doerr, Reid Hoffman, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, and others.

Yammer CEO David Sacks and Tesla/SpaceX founder Elon Musk also were briefly associated, but dropped out following reports that FWD.us ran advertisements for supportive senators who also supported oil pipeline and drilling developments in Alaska.

However, amid all the controversy, Zuckerberg’s firm managed to chalk up a win as the US Senate passed a bill that helped move undocumented workers to becoming citizens and also ease the path for more foreign workers in science and technology to be employed in the country. However, that bill still remains locked up in the House of Representatives — so the fight is not yet done.

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By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently Flipboard's Assistant Managing Editor, overseeing news curation in technology, science, gaming and health. In addition to his day job, Ken's the co-host of "The Created Economy" podcast, examining the Creator Economy. In a past life, he was a former reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding.