Theo Rigby


copyright: Theo Rigby

Taking Action


• Research the current status of the DREAM Act and invite your federal legislators to a public forum to explain their support of or opposition to the proposed law. Offer real-life examples such as that of Gilbert to discuss the potential effect of the DREAM Act.


• Create a support network in your community for children like Helen whose parents have been deported. Engage families in brainstorming conversations about what might be most helpful (e.g., supplying phone cards, paying for access to the Internet and Skype-enabled computers, providing travel vouchers or creating a network of volunteer host families).


• Host a town hall meeting to examine why current discussions of immigration policy are so polarized. Use the results of the town hall to build consensus around an approach that would avoid splitting apart families.


• Hold a fundraiser for legal aid service providers in your community who offer help to documented and undocumented immigrants.


• Think about the way the words “illegal” and “undocumented” are used to shape public dialogue about the presence of immigrants in the United States.


Community Engagement & Discussion Guide Prepared by POV / PBS (


The Political


Who, if anyone, benefits from deporting the Mejias? In addition to immediate family members, who might be impacted by the deportation? In your view, do the benefits outweigh the damage? Why or why not?


The film describes the Mejias this way: It’s a family that has pulled themselves up by the bootstraps and worked many jobs to make a go of it here. They’ve supported their kids and now they have a kid in college, and a star student, a freshman in high school. They have saved enough to buy their own home and really fulfilled the American dream… In your view, what should U.S. policy be for people like Sam and Elida who lack documentation but exemplify model citizenship?


Should the law account for any of the following factors, and if so, how:


• their reasons for leaving Guatemala

• the length of time they have been in the United States

• their employment or economic status

• their achievements in the United States

• the fact that they have children who are U.S. citizens


Helen says, “Because I’m a U.S. citizen I can apply for my parents to become citizens when I’m 21. That’s so long. That’s like seven years. Seven years is like, forever. It’s like, way to take them out, right when I need them the most.” What is your opinion of the U.S. law that allows children of undocumented parents to petition for citizenship for their parents at the age of 21?


If the law were changed and children under 21 could petition, what would be the broader implications of minors taking legal actions such as these? Unlike his sister, Gilbert was not born in the United States. He was 1 year old when his parents brought him to the United States. What would you do if you were the judge in Gilbert’s case? Do you think he should be granted a pathway to citizenship?


Elida points out that to her children, “There is no other country but the one they have lived in.” Should this matter in terms of immigration policy? Why or why not?


How do you define the “American dream”? After viewing the film, is your definition the same or different? Do the Mejias fit your definition? Why or why not? What is the significance of the film’s title?


The Personal


Elida says, “When you come from your country, you usually bring a dream.” How would you describe the dream that inspired Elida and Sam to come to the United States? How does this dream compare with the experiences of other immigrants you know about, either currently or in past generations?


Compare your own experience to that of the person in the Mejia family closest to your age. How is his or her experience similar to and different from yours?


Describe the impact of the Mejias’ deportation on their children. Who else is affected? What is the potential ripple effect of a deportation like this?


Elida struggles with her decision to leave her children, saying, “Helen is still young. She still can’t work, so she depends on me. She needs more than help with money. She needs moral advice and spiritual advice. I don’t want to bring her here [to Guatemala] either, because it would be selfish and deny her opportunities. She deserves a better future.” Under what circumstances might you separate from your children if you had them? How about if you were Helen or Gilbert? If the choice were yours, would you consider going to Guatemala with your parents or would you stay in the United States? What factors would carry the most weight in making your decision?


Helen says, “If I get a B- in my class, they are like, ‘Why are you getting a B-? get an A.’” Why do you think Sam and Elida place such great emphasis on education? What is the effect on children of such pressure to succeed? How do Gilbert and Helen cope with that pressure?


Legal Issues



This policy organization provides policy briefs and tracks legislation related to immigrants and immigration, including the DREAM Act.



This group tracks and responds to anti-immigration legislation. The website also includes a “myths and facts” page about current immigrants.



This support organization for undocumented students pursuing college degrees and citizenship offers a wide range of resources for students, parents and educators.



This body advances the rights of low-income immigrants and their families and provides toolkits that communities can use to take action.



This is the government agency tasked with enforcing immigration policy and detaining undocumented immigrants.


Information About Immigrants


This project of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting aggregates multimedia reports from top-notch journalists across the U.S. borderlands covering immigration issues.



The Pew Hispanic Center is a nonpartisan research organization that chronicles the experience of Latino immigrants in the United States, including current statistical research.



This group is a resource for global immigration facts and articles on immigration policy, as well as a great set of links to relevant government and non-government agencies, organizations, departments, and journals.





This simple lesson helps deconstruct common myths about Immigrants.



Define American is a multi-media project started by undocumented journalist Jose Antonio Vargas.


Immigration Myths and Realities


Myth #1: Immigrants don’t pay taxes and “freeload” off of the welfare system. Immigrants pay taxes, just like anyone else—between $90 and $140 billion a year in federal, state and local taxes. Moreover, it’s estimated that immigrants earn about $240 billion a year, pay $90 billion or more a year in taxes and use only about $5 billion in public benefits annually, so the government makes money off of immigrants—often because undocumented workers are afraid they’ll get caught if they use Administration’s balance of taxes that cannot be matched to workers’ names and social security numbers grew by $20 billion between 1990 and 1998. While employers are obligated to ask for Social Security numbers, they don’t have to confirm the authenticity of those numbers, leading to the use of millions of false Social Security cards. Often an undocumented immigrant applies for an ITIN number, which can be used in place of a Social Security number for the sole purpose of paying income taxes.


Myth #2: Immigrants don’t want to learn English because they want to make Spanish our national language and take over our culture. While 83 percent of immigrants to the United States do not speak English at home, a recent survey by the Pew Hispanic Center shows that a clear majority of Latinos (57 percent) believe that immigrants have to speak English to be a part of American society. And it is Latino immigrants, rather than native-born Latinos, who are more likely to say that immigrants must learn English. Another study published by the Population and Development Review concluded that English is not under threat as the dominant language spoken in the United States—even in Southern California, home to the largest concentration of Spanish-speaking immigrants.


Myth #3: Immigration to the United States has increased over the last century. This is technically true in terms of sheer numbers, but keep in mind that at the start of the 20th century, the U.S. population was less than half what it is now. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the early 20th century, the foreign-born population was about 15 percent of the total population, whereas now it stands at about 11.5 percent, so the rate of immigration relative to the United States-born population— the most accurate indicator—has decreased.


Myth #4: Immigrants on average are dramatically less educated than native-born Americans. Taken together, immigrants on average have perhaps one year less education than Americans born in the United States. The proportion of immigrants in the labor force who have a bachelor’s or post-graduate degree is higher than that of the native labor force, and the proportion of adult immigrants with eight or fewer years of education has been decreasing, while the proportion of adult immigrants with 16 years or more of education has been increasing.


Myth #5: Immigrants cause unemployment because they take jobs from native-born Americans. The largest wave of immigration to the United States since the 1900s coincided with our lowest national unemployment rate and fastest economic growth. Many studies have shown that even among low-paid and minority groups, immigrants do not cause native unemployment. Many believe that, if anything, immigrants create new jobs with their purchasing power and the new businesses they start, a pattern that has been particularly important with the emergence of the high-tech industry. According to one recent study, immigrant entrepreneurs founded 25 percent of all U.S. engineering and technology companies launched in the last decade—such as Google, for example, which was co-founded by Russian immigrant Sergey Brin. Immigrant-founded companies were estimated to have generated $53 billion in sales in 2005 and created about 450,000 jobs as of 2005. In 2011, immigrants created 28% of all new firms and were twice as likely to start new businesses when compared to those born in the United States. Many immigrants also take low skilled, low paid jobs in agriculture and the service industry.



Cato Institute. “Immigration: The Demographic and Economic Facts.”


Wadhwa, Vivek, Saxenian, AnnaLee, Rissing, Ben A. and Gereffi, Gary,

America's New Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Part I (January 4, 2007).

Duke Science, Technology & Innovation Paper No. 23. Available at

SSRN: or


Dwoskin, Elizabeth. “Many Fast-Growing U.S. Jobs Go to Immigrants.” Bloomberg BusinessWeek, March 15, 2012.


Immigration Forum. “Top Ten Immigrants Myths and Facts.”


Pew Hispanic Center. “Hispanic Attitudes Toward Learning English.”


Population Council. “Linguistic Life Expectancies: Immigrant Language Retention in Southern California.”


U.S. Census Bureau. “The Foreign-Born Population in the United States: 2003.”


U.S. Census Bureau. “Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-born Population of the United States: 1850-1990.” wps0029.html