Refugee and Immigrant Films

The following is a list of recommended films and documentaries about the immigrant and refugee experience in the United States.  

General Immigration

Golden Door
Sicilian peasant Salvatore yearns for a better life, one he believes exists only in the fabled land known as America. He sells everything he owns to make the trans-Atlantic passage with his two sons and elderly mother. On the perilous steamship crossing, Salvatore meets a mysterious, worldly Englishwoman, Lucy, and an unexpected romance unfolds. But neither Salvatore nor Lucy is prepared for the arrival at Ellis Island, where families are inspected, interrogated and split apart. They will have to bravely face their personal and collective dilemmas in order to become part of the American dream. Rated PG-13.
In America
When an Irish family suffers a terrible loss, they seek a new beginning in America. After crossing the Canadian border, the family settles in New York. They deal with new problems and dif ficulties, but the presence of an unexpected friend helps them in more ways than they could have ever imagined. Rated PG-13.
New Americans
This acclaimed seven-part television series explores four years in the lives of a diverse group of contemporary immigrants and refugees as they journey to start new lives in the United States. We follow an Indian couple in Silicon Valley, a Mexican meatpacker, two families of Nigerian refugees, two Los Angeles Dodgers’ prospects and a Palestinian woman. The series presents a kaleidoscopic picture of immigrant life today, and reveals " rst impressions of the United States that few born in America can imagine. Unrated.
Sugar follows the story of Miguel Santos, a.k.a. Sugar, a Dominican pitcher from San Pedro De Macorís, struggling to make it to the big leagues and pull himself and his family out of poverty. Playing professionally at a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic, Miguel finally gets his break at age 19 when he advances to the United States’ minor league system. Rated R. (PG-13 version available.)
Welcome to Shelbyville
This documentary is a glimpse of America at a crossroads. In this one small town in the heart of America’s Bible Belt, a community grapples with rapidly changing demographics. Just a stone’s throw away from Pulaski, Tennessee (the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan), longtime African American and white residents are challenged with how best to integrate with a growing Latino population and the more recent arrival of hundreds of Muslim Somali refugees. Unrated.
Chasing Freedom
Inspired by true events, this Court TV film is the story of Libby Brock, an ambitious, young securities lawyer who reluctantly takes on a pro bono asylum case. Her client is Meena, a young Afghan woman who, fearing for her life, has ! ed the oppressive Taliban regime to request asylum in the United States. As Libby becomes more involved in the case, she discovers not only the obstacles her client survived prior to arriving in the United States, but also the grueling process she must endure to obtain asylum once here. Rated R

Well-Founded Fear 
(Shari Robertson and Michael Camerini, 2000).  In order to meet the refugee standard, an individual must be able to show s/he has a “well-founded fear” of persecution.  This gripping film follows the fortunes of people from various countries as they make their claim for refugee protection in the United States. 

Mrs. Goundo’s Daughter 
(Barbara Atlee and Janet Goldwater, 2009).  Female genital mutilation is the focus of this documentary, as Mrs. Goundo is seeking refugee protection for her daughter in the United States on the grounds that she would be subjected to this treatment if returned home to Mali.

Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars 
(Zach Niles and Banker White, 2005).  This film is about a group of refugees from Sierra Leone who form a band and sing about the refugee experience.  The music alone makes this documentary worth watching.

God Grew Tired of Us
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, this documentary explores the indomitable spirit of three “Lost Boys” from the Sudan who leave their homeland, triumph over seemingly insurmountable adversities, and move to America, where they build active and fulfilling new lives but remain deeply committed to helping the friends and family they have left behind. Rated PG.

The Lost Boys of Sudan
This Emmy-nominated feature-length documentary follows two Sudanese refugees on an extraordinary journey from Africa to America. Orphaned as young boys in one of Africa’s cruelest civil wars, Peter Dut and Santino Chuor survived lion attacks and militia gunfire to reach a refugee camp in Kenya along with thousands of other children. From there, remarkably, they were chosen to come to America. Safe at last from physical danger and hunger, in a world away from home, they finnd themselves confronted with the abundance and alienation of contemporary American suburbia. Unrated.

Sentenced Home
Putting a human face on a controversial immigration policy, this documentary follows three young Cambodian Americans through the deportation process. Raised in inner city Seattle, they pay an unbearable price for mistakes they made as teenagers. Under strict anti-terrorism legislation enacted in 1996, even minor convictions can result in automatic deportation. Told in the voices of the deportees, their families and friends, the film explores what it’s like to be deported along with the reasons behind the deportees’ fate. Unrated.


Undocumented Immigration

La Americana
When nine-year-old Carla su# ers a life-threatening accident, her mother, Carmen, must leave her behind and make the dangerous and illegal journey from Bolivia to the United States, where she hopes to earn enough to save her daughter’s life. Carmen struggles in vain to legalize her immigration status and wrestles with the prospect of never seeing her daughter again. This documentary is Carmen’s story, and the story of millions of undocumented immigrants who leave their families behind to pursue the American dream. Unrated.

El Norte
Brother and sister Enrique and Rosa flee persecution at home in Guatemala and journey north, through Mexico and on to the United States, with the dream of starting a new life. It’s a story that happens every day, but until Gregory Nava’s groundbreaking El Norte (The North), the personal travails of immigrants crossing the border to America had never been shown in the movies with such urgent humanism. Rated R.
9500 Liberty
Racial tension and threats of violence erupt when Prince William County, Virginia adopts a law requiring the police to question people who appear to be undocumented immigrants. Supporters of the law ride a wave of hysteria to an election victory. But many reconsider when the local economy feels the impact of a sudden exodus of immigrants. Despite fears of reprisal,a group of concerned citizens launches a “virtual resistance” using social media, setting up a final showdown with the law’s ferocious advocates. Unrated.
abUSed: the Postville Raid
This full-length documentary that tells the story of the most brutal, expensive, and one of the largest Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in the history of the United States. Weaving together the personal stories of individuals, families, and the town directly affected by the events of May 12, 2008, the " lm presents the human face of the issue of immigration reform and serves as a cautionary tale against abuses of constitutional human rights. Unrated.
Papers: Stories of Undocumented Youth
“Papers” is a documentary about undocumented youth in the United States and the challenges they face as they turn 18 without legal status. There are approximately 2 million undocumented children who were born outside the United States and raised in this country. These are young people who were educated in American schools, hold American values, know only the United States as home and who, upon high school graduation, find the door to their future slammed shut. Unrated.
The Visitor
The life of a lonely college professor is forever changed when he returns to his spare apartment one day to find a young undocumented immigrant couple living there. The couple – a Syrian musician who teaches the professor African drums, and his girlfriend, a Senegalese vendor – add vibrancy and meaning to his life. They form a meaningful and lasting friendship. When
the young man gets taken into custody, they find out together how cold and harsh the immigration detention system can be. Rated PG-13.
Under the Same Moon
This feature " lm tells the parallel stories of nine-year-old Carlitos and his mother, Rosario. In the hopes of providing a better life for her son, Rosario works illegally in the United States, while her mother cares for Carlitos back in Mexico. Unexpected circumstances drive both Rosario and Carlitos to embark on their own journeys in a desperate attempt to reunite. Along the way, mother and son face challenges and obstacles but never lose hope that they will one day be together again. Rated PG-13.
Which Way Home 
This Oscar-nominated documentary follows several unaccompanied child migrants as they journey through Mexico en route to the United States on a freight train they call “The Beast.” Director Rebecca Cammisa tracks the stories of children like Olga and Freddy, nine-year-old Hondurans who are desperately trying to reach their families in Minnesota, and Kevin, a canny, streetwise 14-year-old Honduran, whose mother hopes that he will reach New York City and send money back to his family. Unrated.