This (Illegal) American Life
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This (Illegal) American Life

2011, Society  -   160 Comments
Ratings: 5.56/10 from 96 users.

From a small town in Oaxaca, Mexico, and from a kitchen table in East Los Angeles, from a flophouse in a coastal farming town, to a strip-mall in Phoenix, Arizona, these are snapshots of illegal immigration in America. It's estimated that as many as 12 million people are living in United States illegally, but this story is about just two.

An American lit major named Ilse, and a strawberry picker named Filemon. They know that many do not want them here. But for different reasons they're staying. Their lives are testaments to both the power of the American dream and the absolute failure of America's immigration policies.

23 year old Ilse Escobar grew up in Los Angeles and remembers well her first visit to the UCLA campus. In many ways Ilse is a typical American college student, but in one important way Ilse is very different. Ilse's family crossed the border from Mexico into the United States when she was just 3 years old. She's considered an illegal immigrant in the only country she's ever known.

Ilse is one of approximately 200 undocumented students at UCLA. Despite their illegal status the state of California allows these students to attend its public universities, but in just a few short months Ilse will graduate into a country that can be far less tolerant. News clips provide a regular reminder of how some Americans feel.

Ilse and her peers may be unafraid, emboldened and in some ways protected by their status as students at one of the country's top schools, but just 40 miles up the coast things are very different. Oxnard, California is home to both some of the richest farmland in America and an illegal immigrant population that is anything but eager to speak its name or show its face.

The farm workers weren't talking nor did their employers want them to. Undocumented workers in Oxnard live in the shadows. At the end of their shifts they retreat from the fields to immigrant friendly neighborhoods where they often live in flophouses, trailers or dormitory styled residences. They believe there's safety in numbers.

No one knows exactly what percentage of farm workers in Oxnard are there illegally. Nationally, undocumented workers are estimated to make up as much as 70% of the agricultural workforce. The workers pick for some of the biggest brands in the produce industry. In Oxnard one crop is king. More strawberries are grown there than anywhere else in California. A state that produces 88% of this country's strawberries, and every one of them is picked by hand.

Strawberry fields are among the most backbreaking to harvest. Workers spend long days hunched over, their skin covered to protect against both the sun and pesticides. A fruits of their labor yield a state's produce industry an estimated $2 billion a year. Filemon was the only undocumented farm worker who seemed willing to speak in front of the camera.

Not far from the strawberry fields, there is a neighborhood in south Oxnard, which from the street looks like a typical working class suburb, but in fact it's overpopulated with undocumented farm workers who live in awful conditions.

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4 years ago

If all the bleeding hearts truly cared, they would help the Mexicans overthrow their swamp corrupt government, clear out their police and other systems based on graft, and help them start businesses. Oh crap, if they truly cared about the their kids, they would do that here first.

If Ilse is deported, what would be the worst thing?
She would apply to European companies, such as in Spain, assuming she knows Spanish, for a job.
Highly likely someone would take her having a degree from UCLA.
Then they would send her back in a year or two as a company representative to the usa.

As for the strawberry pickers:
Kids have less distance to bend their backs, used to pick the strawberries. Why don't they now? The UNIONS ruined that form of summer work for the kids. They made a ruckus and their mentally deficient democrat reps past laws wiping out strawberry picking for the kids.

That is why I would NEVER hire a union person and would just close a business down if a union succeeded in duping the employees to unionize. They are the reason many companies moved overseas. Unions are so smart they shoot themselves in the foot every chance they get.

"Unions are the perfect training ground for communism." -- (Soviet) Lenin

5 years ago

White people aren't white, they are pink.
Hold a piece of white paper beside any part that gets no sun and look.
I wish people would use the correct word. It's PINK.

5 years ago

This problem is based on color. The WHITE Europeans who came here in the last century had some trouble but NOTHING like what non-whites have been enduring for more than the last hundred years. That is why I wretch when ignoramuses bleat out "God Bless America".

6 years ago

I understand where all of the hate white supremacists seem to feel against immigrants. They are unable to get a job, struggle to pay student debts and probably have to work extra-time to afford their vacations. I get it; it's hard. This documentary showed a great deal about the lives that undocumented immigrants expect to live in the US. They showed the field worker, the cook, the housecleaning lady, the student. They showed parents concerned about the well being of their kids and kids aspiring to make their parents proud. The purpose was not white shame anybody. The purpose was not show a face of the United States that is often overlooked. Sure, people discuss illegal immigration and all the problems it has brought to their lives. But what they do not discuss is the lives that are being talked about. Student aspiring to graduate and give their talents and hard work to the US. Workers who not know about the American taxing system. I know many people do not pay taxes. It is not because they do not want; it's because they do not know they have to. If the american people want them to pay taxes, then give them the information they need to do so. Words of hate do not educate; they just create more hate. It pains me to see that a country that was created on the basis of freedom and that has fought for equality is going back to the years of segregation and injustice- and people cheer to it- If immigrants come down, so does the country.

Anika Rosie
7 years ago

There was an important factor that either I missed, or was not presented. (Without reviewing the video, I will suspect the later.)
How has the college grads family been sustaining themselves since arrival, and how did the girl pay for her education.
In order to shine a brighter light on this topic, I feel that this information is important. Have hundreds of K's of U.S. tax dollars been spent over 20 years in order to secure a diploma that is, in all reality, not likely to be used?

Richard Neva
8 years ago

That creep Obama allows all this to happen! For a reason too, to destroy America for all his Zionist friends!

9 years ago

I've just sent an email to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and reported these illegals.

9 years ago

Something needs to be done but it doesn't involve the US alone. Mexico is a failure and needs to be changed around by the US if necessary. The people coming to the US are looking for money and better lives. There are thousands of illegals who have been educated in the US but they are unwilling to go back to the country of their birth to improve it. This says a lot about Mexico's government and the myth of education's value to capitalism. Staying the US is also the lazy easy choice. Most all would choose to stay. The US border needs to be controlled or opened and new opportunities in Mexico opened up for Americans. Mexico should become more like America as most Mexicans would like to live like Americans and have work opportunities. America isn't a cruel state to immigrants legal or illegal. In fact, if you look at the laws Mexico is much more cruel to average Americans trying to do business there. This is also the case in most developing nations. Open the borders up but make sure the opportunities go both ways. Right now the US is the only country giving up to foreigners. I've lived abroad for twenty years as an American and I can tell you I have gone through as much pain as any of these people. The world is open to the wealthy but not so much for the poor no matter which country they are from.

Finally, I'd like to say that Mexico has a religious / education problem. It's people have babies that they can't feed. Just listen to the woman who points out her 6-7 kids when the film crew visit her after talking to her husband and 8th child in the US. This is Mexico's failure again. If Mexico dealt with its overpopulation issue, it would be in a better state. This is the same as the Philippines. You can probably blame the Catholic church for this one. I know the ignorant people like these farmers. I live with them in Asia. Out here they stopped having giant families a decade or two ago. Mexico has to stop being ignorant and show some leadership. Mexico probably would have changed long ago if its excess population were not able to cross the border. It would have a population of 110 million people by now. Shame on the fools in Mexico's government. Shame on the wealthy Mexicans for selling out the nation at the expense of the poor.

The problem the US has was not created by the US and it is a complex problem. Just giving citizenship will not solve anything if the broken nation to the south can't improve itself. Besides seeking citizenship or permanent residency in the US, the illegals in the US should work to change Mexico by any means necessary.

John Murgaš
9 years ago

People are not smart enough to trace the root cause of the problem, don't waste your time, They are still living with a precolonial mentality, specially when you divide people just for the color of your skin, the labels "black" and "white" are an obstacle to beating racism.

9 years ago

Here's a fact to consider: Hispanics make up the greatest proportion of inmates in California's prison system. Now why is that? And don't say racial profiling. I'll tell you why in case you are too s*upid or too chickens%hit to say it: it's their culture!

9 years ago

I can't wait until you Americans are to Canada what Mexicans are to America. What do you think would happen to the agricultural industry in the US if all the illegal immigrants decide to leave? You have an entire country that is ready to do all the back breaking labour that you are too entitled to do and you want to kick them out? The American economy needs no more blows as of right now and you need to start to recognize that these poor mexican workers are a big part of what keeps that country going.

9 years ago

"Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated."

9 years ago

Illegal immigration makes a mockery of our nation's legal immigration laws. This family is a smaller % of those that are here, illegally, and make themselves successful. On the other end of the spectrum, we have the illegals that come here and are gang/cartel-affiliated and bring related criminal activities right into our neighborhoods. We have those that absolutely refuse to assimilate into our nation's society and prefer that we assimilate into their culture. This is just not the way that it is done. Congratulations to Ilsa and her family. However, they started off wrong and should have, by now, gotten it right and started the legal processes, as it stands (not wait for us to change our laws to conform to their needs making things 'easy').

John Murgaš
9 years ago

By concentrating the wealth in just one place, is what "I think", causes the big gap between nations, this country benefits from this people and this people are humans beings, the world can start thinking as a group not as separate nations.

This people may not know how to start to be self efficient and it takes a wealthy nation to start this, and we all know the history of the problem and the root cause for this people to fall behind.

I know people don't want to hear this but this is important, The better the conditions are for the people around you, the better for you; You start to better your self and is contagious; People want to better them selfs! If not ¿why are they looking for work in the first place?…

Things are easy to fix when people want to work, what's not easy to fix is the greed and apathy of the rich and wealthy…

Hate it or not, it's the truth, and the world has been dealing with this problem since the beginning of civilization, The Strong vs The Weak…

9 years ago

Legal immigration is the only form of immigration that must be allowed in our country. Sure, there are stories that tug at our hearts, but we must create and maintain our policies using our heads and we must, absolutely, maintain our nation as a nation of laws. We have, now, a path to citizenship for illegal alien students, regular adults and children. It is called our legal immigration processes. With the cost of coming into our country, illegally, being several thousands of dollars per illegal what I fail to understand is how can illegals have no problem with paying this money to coyotes yet not pay what may be even less money to respect our nation's laws and come to (and stay in) our country using our legal immigration policies?? Then, we have people such as illsa who has been in our country for over 20 years and has not made her way to our immigration department to finally respect our nation's immigration laws and become a legal citizen?? Instead, she waits for us to change our policies to suit her and those like her. Ilsa states that she does not understand why Americans feel the way we do about illegal aliens. The fact that she could be here for so many years, illegally, secure space in public schools for free (courtesy of American taxpayers), fill jobs that could be filled by America's youth, etc. and then take a position at an American public university that turned down an American student so that she could attend (trust me the University had more applications than it had spaces meaning that American students were almost assuredly turned down for the 200 illegals to attend)....all this and she states 'I just don't understand why Americans feel the way they do'....selfish.

John Murgaš
9 years ago

The Sun is going to shine even if the west falls, there's plenty of work if every body becomes self efficient. and I bet you even if there's plenty of work people will look for other minorities like not being white enough to be doing the dirty work... Some people are just plain hypocrites, I worked 12 years for a Union in NY doing Construction and witness how this companies run illegal workers and even helped to bring people illegally to do the dirty work, and it left me without any work some times and I did not complained, who the fck wants to work when this offices are going to be demolished 1 years later, the whole system is a fraud.

9 years ago

send these people back home , lets try picking our own food

John Murgaš
9 years ago

Whether you like it or not we all are humans no matter what ethnicity we are and we all have the same basic needs to survive.

We can not tell someone to be self efficient while we depend on others to produce our food or to do the jobs we don't want to do, that's called hypocrisy!

If you track down the records of atrocities committed by the US and Europe alone against Humanity you'll see that the whole damn system is wrong and we call this progress.

keep enjoying your nice meals which you don't produce and the stupid jobs that keep you away from doing any labor work and keep maintaining your social status up so you don't have to see or hear from minorities….

The system is based on greed the schizophrenia of superiority and apathy, that is the oldest story in the history of humanity...

9 years ago

not one single comment on here even knows who is the driving force behind open is just as in Europe...the Jewish lobbies they admit as much, go watch Ted Kennedy at live leak speak at the is divide and conquer,a communist plank..and anyone who is not ignorant knows the communist were Jews.

9 years ago

I agree with Paul Gloor's comment below.
Instead of treating illegal immigrants like vermin, go after the industries that hire them, the farmers and the landlords.
Could Oxnard's economy survive without them?
How much money do these workers spend while they are in town on necessities like groceries, clothes, etc.? Doesn't this add to the town's tax revenues?
I have no idea.
Without illegals, are the locals eager to snap up the jobs in the fields and processing plants? I don't know that either.
Stop the hating, make some plans, and try to see the big picture.
As for Arizona, not sure if detaining illegals is a cash cow or a drain on the jail industry.
I was happy to see the young lady succeed in school. She never chose to be an illegal immigrant. What can she do with her degree in the U.S. if she doesn't have a social security number? Maybe she could return to Mexico and put her education to good use (which she paid for); but everyone she loves is in the U.S..
She will have to do a lot of thinking on this situation and I wouldn't want to be in her shoes. She might have been deported by now for all we know.

John Murgaš
9 years ago

“There are no Negro problems, or Polish problems, or Jewish problems, or Greek problems, or women's problems. They're Human problems”. —Jacques Fresco ...

Your Name
9 years ago

I actually wanted to try work in the field picking vegetables,fruit,or whatever just to try it out and get experience, but after watching this, it seems tough to work for someone else, breaking your back, in the heat, and for little pay. Maybe if I start my own garden, that would be better.

Albert Potato
9 years ago

Sounds like a white guy would do pretty good skipping the border and heading south.

John Murgaš
9 years ago

If you going to talk about this delicate subject, you better Back it up with resources, if you have nothing good to say don't say anything, because your'e not helping to fix the problem.

The effects of poverty may also be causes, and poverty is the principal cause of hunger.

According to the reports of the first Europeans to visit the New World, slavery was almost universal in what is now Mexico and Central America. Theoretically, with the arrival of Europeans.

Inequality is holding cultures back to recover from Colonial crimes.

and this Inequality is derived from an schizophrenia and a superiority complex, and it happens in all cultures.

John Murgaš
9 years ago

The destruction of cultural identities to gain power has left many people in deep poverty, that is an instinct effect on ecological moral character and it happens in all colors...

An ecological organic paradigm can bring reasoning, responsibility, development, Ecological Conscience, character of taming the instinct of human violence and refining the moral sensibility of humanity.

9 years ago

There's not enough of anything for Filimone's family and my family. Illegal Alien go home. The narrator, producer is Mexican. I watched the whole thing on the slight chance there might be something new in the begging for my children's spot at UCLA, but don't bother. You folks do know Mexico's official religion is Catholism. Filimone's wife has a fruit picker's divorce.

John Murgaš
9 years ago

The schizophrenia of superiority over minorities:

1: Mechanisms of schizophrenia, a mental disorder characterized by a disintegration of the processes of thinking and of emotional responsiveness { (Apathy) a state of indifference, or the suppression of emotions such as concern, excitement, motivation and passion.}.

2: Imperialism and Schizophrenia in present time:
Imperialism is the creation or maintenance of an economic, cultural and territorial relationship based on domination and subordination while Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by a breakdown of thought processes and by poor emotional responsiveness.

3: Narcissism in politics:
The primary characteristics of narcissists is their exaggerated sense of entitlement, somehow thinks they "deserve" to game the system.

9 years ago

I'm so sick of these "poor little Mexican" horse**** sob stories. Look-any individual can be considered a decent person, but this misses the point. The point is about culture. I live in Ventura County, near Oxnard, and I can assure you that wherever Mexicans congregate turns to ****. These Mexicans are not here to assimilate-hell, very very few of them even try to learn English! Where their numbers grow, so too does crime and the quality of life takes a nosedive. It's not hard to figure out why if you just look at the issue realistically, empirically: Mexico is a **** country, always has been and always will be. Why? Well, it's full of Mexicans, and hence Mexican culture.
And I wonder what legal citizen was denied entrance into UCLA because this gal, and affirmative action, took their spot? Anybody who defends illegals is either Hispanic themselves, has never lived where they have invaded, or is simply stupid

Lyle Skakun
9 years ago

The illegal immigration problem will never be fixed. It employs too many white government 'workers' and red neck sheriffs..Same reason the prisons are full of black and Hispanics.

John Murgaš
9 years ago

The hate of the White Americans to the Central Americans or Mexicans comes from the White Supremacy schizophrenia.

Whites have been playing that Superiority Complex since the Middle Ages, Central America and South America are part of America...

Someone who treats people like this don't deserve to be in power for so long, the white elite have a big list of the worst atrocities to humanity.

because if someone with no education can do the job of somebody with a "higher Education", that person is just as smart.

Paul Gloor
9 years ago

Heart wrenching.
Truth, if you want to stop illegal immigration, look for what's causing it. Treat the cause and not the symptoms. NAFTA being one of those causes which apparently forced thousands to migrate illegally because they simply had no way of doing it legally.
I don't like immigration so much either, It does make it harder to get a job and make ends meet. But they are still human, and you would do the same in their shoes.

9 years ago

I left this playing in the background and it just pulled me in as it got better and better. I'm at 28min and there's a young woman in tears at the kitchen table. I'm not surprised she is in tears, she's finally being allowed to talk about something she's never been allowed to talk about: her undocumented status has remained a long kept secret.

The xenophobia and hatred being spouted reminds me of my days during apartheid so much. The irony (you pig headed racists) is that your descendants were invaders on those shores. This young woman is more 'american' that you'll ever be, albeit beyond your imposed borders. Your borders are sustaining that apartheid philosophy - a system of state sponsored racial segregation and social engineering. Think that I'm being ridiculous? Look at your Native American 'settlements'. State sponsored, social segregated engineering more like.

You lot were the first ones to slap on the racist charges and sanctions on South Africa, all the while treating your fellow man with this exact same kind of disgust that was perpetuated by the apartheid government - I know because I was in your country too during the same time period...and here openly calling for a few to be shot dead so that 'a message' is sent loud and clear. Not only is that not the first time I've heard (or seen) that one, but these people are deadly serious to boot.

What is it with you guys that you just can't get enough blood on your hands?? If only you would direct that energy at the place where it would make the most difference, but no...that would asking too much - easier, as always, to form a local lynch mob, to point fingers at foreigners and minority groups and label them baaaad, enemies even, whilst constantly living in fear and utter hypocrisy. Obviously I'm not directing this at anyone other that these US xenophobes who make me absolutely friggin furious.

Thinking I hate americans? I don't
Thinking I hate America? I don't
I loath the mindset that allows thinking in terms of 'hatred'.

...powerful, recommended viewing.