9 Must-See Documentaries About Immigration at the U.S Southern Border

Explore the complexities and realities of immigration at the US southern border through captivating documentary films.
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As we prepare for an election year in 2024, the southern U.S. border continues to be a contentious issue across the political spectrum (learn more about navigating changing politics and policies), it's helpful to have as much insight as possible about it. This not only helps us all make informed decisions as voters and have informed conversations with others, it also opens up the opportunity to expand your immigration practice to include asylum and related services. 

Because it’s difficult to stay up to date on everything happening in the world, documentary films are a fantastic way to step into someone else's shoes, learn about a topic, and do so in a more passive, enjoyable way. With that in mind, we've curated a list of documentaries focusing on the U.S. southern border. 

These documentaries offer a glimpse into the enduring effects of immigration policies on the lives of individuals crossing the southern border into the United States. And remember, this list isn't comprehensive - if you have other recommendations, we'd love to hear from you on our social media platforms! Let’s dive in.

Top Documentaries on the U.S. southern border

Great documentary films, like great films, have a unique power to stir our senses and emotions through intimate and compelling visual storytelling, often zooming in on personal experiences. Documentaries about the immigration experience serve as a vital conduit to access crucial information concerning social, financial and political issues around our industry that might otherwise remain beyond their reach for many, especially busy immigration attorneys.

So, here are our nine favorite documentaries that shed light on immigration at the United States' southern border.

The Trek: A Migrant Trail to America

In "The Trek: A Migrant Trail to America," a 2023 documentary series comprising five parts, CNN's Nick Paton Walsh accompanies a group of migrants on a perilous journey through Central and South America in search of a better life. Their path leads them through the treacherous Darien Gap, a 66-mile stretch of dense rainforest fraught with danger..

Border of Dreams

"Border of Dreams: A Textura Documentary," a 2023 independent production, follows the journeys of two families attempting to cross the Mexico-U.S. border. Textura, an international storytelling project by Bethel University students, immersed its filmmakers in the community of Antigua, Guatemala, uncovering the stories of three men from the Guatemalan highlands who attempted and failed to immigrate to the United States.

Texas Conservatives Fear “Takeover” By Immigrants

“Texas Conservatives Fear “Takeover” By Immigrants” is a 2022 short documentary created by Vice Media that focuses on the shifting landscape of U.S. immigration policy under a new administration. Specifically, it delves into the debate surrounding the removal of Title 42, a provision implemented during the Trump administration. This documentary is part of the larger series "Immigrant America," which explores both the personal narratives and political intricacies driving the U.S. immigration discourse.

The Other Side of Immigration 

"The Other Side of Immigration" is a thought-provoking, award-winning 2022 documentary that investigates the complexities of immigration from Mexico. Through more than 700 interviews, the film examines the root causes of Mexican migration and the profound impact of mass migration on rural Mexico. This documentary has received accolades, including the American Library Association Notable Video Award and recognition as the "Best Documentary" on The Hill's list of top civil rights films.

The Undocumented Lawyer

In this compelling 2021 documentary — “The Undocumented Lawyer” — viewers follow the remarkable journey of Lizbeth Mateo, an undocumented immigrant who defies the odds to become a lawyer and advocate for migrant rights. Despite running her own law practice in Los Angeles with four employees, Mateo faces the harsh reality of lacking legal status in the country she calls home. Her story illuminates the resilience of immigrants and underscores the critical role of legal representation in ensuring equitable treatment and access to justice. 

Targeting El Paso

"Targeting El Paso," a 2020 documentary by Frontline, probes into how El Paso, Texas emerged as a battleground for then-President Donald Trump's immigration policies. It explores the city's role as a focal point of anti-immigrant rhetoric and a surge in migrant family crossings. The film features exclusive interviews, including a rare conversation with a border patrol agent grappling with the moral implications of family separations, and sheds light on the experiences of children detained at the infamous Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas.

Immigration Nation

"Immigration Nation," a 2020 Netflix documentary series, offers an intimate and comprehensive examination of immigration in the United States. The documentary was compiled from thousands of hours of footage captured by filmmakers during their immersion with various tiers of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from 2017 to 2020. With unparalleled access to ICE’s operations and poignant portrayals of immigrants, the series provides profound insight into the current state of U.S. immigration. 

Border Business: Inside Immigration

"Border Business: Inside Immigration," a 2019 CBS documentary, examines the complexities of the U.S.-Mexico border, which has become a focal point for illegal migration attempts into the United States. Viewers are taken on a revealing journey through Central America, shedding light on the formation of a cottage industry that facilitates and incentivizes illegal immigration. This documentary highlights the lesser-known stories of the individuals and entities that enable this journey: From human smugglers to restaurant owners, activists, and immigration lawyers, a diverse array of actors forms a sprawling industry dependent on the flow of migrants for their livelihoods.

Kids Caught in the Crackdown

"Kids Caught in the Crackdown," a 2019 documentary by Frontline, digs into the repercussions of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy, which led to a surge in detained migrant children. In collaboration with The Associated Press, Frontline investigates the conditions inside federally funded shelters and examines the enduring effects of prolonged detention on children held in U.S. custody.

Whether you're involved in asylum or other humanitarian cases, or just keen on deepening your understanding of immigration at the southern border of the United States, these documentaries are an excellent way to begin your journey of better understanding immigration in the U.S.

Docketwise immigration law firm CRM and case management

Docketwise is dedicated to creating an immigration case management, forms management, and CRM platform tailored to the diverse needs of immigration law firms of all sizes and practice areas, allowing for more time and attention to client communication, case strategy, and self-development, including watching documentaries.

Our commitment to innovation, a client-focused approach, and the pioneering introduction of our open API sets us apart. Docketwise seamlessly integrates with a number of other platforms, from email to payments and more, simplifying your workflow and providing convenient access for you, your team, and your clients whenever necessary.

If you’re new to Docketwise and would like to try and see if it’s a good fit for your firm, schedule a demo on our website today.

And check-out the official Docketwise podcast, "Immigration Uncovered," and don't forget to subscribe to "Immigration Insights," a quick five-minute newsletter that keeps thousands of immigration lawyers informed and up-to-date!


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