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From the Back of the Line highlights struggles, beauty of Latino immigrant families

Documentary shows seldom-heard immigrant experience



Luis is head foreman at a local construction company. Every Saturday, he volunteers his time building homes for Habitat for Humanity. He pays taxes. Together, he and his wife raise their three young children with love and a strong sense of values.

He has spent 15 years in the U.S., building a life for his family and becoming an asset to his community. He now stands to lose it all.

Technically, Luis and his wife are not U.S. citizens. He came to this country illegally and, after getting pulled over for a broken taillight, he is now facing deportation. If he is kicked out of the U.S., he'd leave behind his wife and children.

When politicians throw around terms like "illegal aliens," it makes it easy for anyone outside the Latino community to subconsciously think of it as a foreign entity, invading America with nefarious intentions. We don't often hear stories about people like Luis and his wife.

Three local residents are seeking to change that. Hannah Levinson, a masters candidate at UNC Charlotte; Toby Shearer, a local filmmaker; and Armando Bellmas of the Latin American Coalition have collaborated on a documentary exploring the lives of immigrants, including Luis', in the Charlotte area.

From the Back of the Line focuses on the lives of individuals caught in deportation procedures, parents raising mixed-status families (where some members are citizens and others are not), and undocumented high school and college-aged students who have lived here since childhood. The goal of the film is to show the human side of the struggle for immigrant rights in hopes it will reframe the United States' unfriendly attitude toward immigration.

Bellmas says 1,500 immigrants are deported every day, more under President Obama than any other administration.

"Families live in fear each day that a relative won't come home, or that they'll have to leave their home country or be put in foster care because their parents got deported," Bellmas says. "Some undocumented young people barely even speak Spanish. They're getting accepted into Ivy League schools and major universities, but can't enroll because of their status."

The trio began filming From the Back of the Line last fall with help from two UNC Charlotte grants, but for post-production costs, they turned to crowd funding through

They posted a short video promo for the documentary and an explanation of its purpose on the website in March, along with their fundraising goal of $3,000.

"I was thinking we would bother people — friends and family — to donate in $10 increments over the length of the 30-day campaign," Levinson says.

But there was no need for that. Within just 72 hours, they'd surpassed their goal and the project was propelled to the front page of the website, gaining national attention.

"We were flabbergasted," Levinson says. "People who I had no idea cared about this issue were sharing it on social networks and contributing. We even had an anonymous angel donor give $500. I have no idea who they are or how they're connected to this issue."

They've raised a $500 surplus, which will go toward amplifying the film's reach via a national tour or advertising for its public premiere, which is scheduled for May 3 at UNCC's Center City building.

Levinson and Bellmas say the film is just a spring board to continue the battle, making a path for undocumented immigrants to become recognized as contributing citizens. According to Bellmas, a study commissioned last year by the N.C. General Assembly stated $317 million was contributed to the state economy by undocumented workers, and virtually no revenue was being taken by things like social services.

"There's tremendous evidence of the positive economic impact these people have," he says.

The original version of this story incorrectly identified Luis' wife's status in this country. Though undocumented, she is not in deportation proceedings.

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