Several MIT students will step out of the shadows tonight when they reveal their identities as undocumented immigrants during an on-campus panel discussion.
Tonight’s event is centered on “Underwater Dreams,’’ a documentary chronicling the incredible journey of four undocumented high school students from Phoenix. Despite their relative lack of resources, the foursome ends up defeating students from MIT’s Edgerton Center and other university-level competitors in an underwater robotics competition. (The Edgerton Center is hosting this evening’s event.)
Viewing the documentary prompted undocumented MIT students to form the group DreaMIT. Members hope to heighten awareness of the challenges immigrants face on the pathway to citizenship by revealing their identities during a panel discussion that is part of tonight’s live-streamed event.
“Dreams’’ director Mary Mazzio, who will sit on the panel alongside DreaMIT members and the writer (and MIT professor) Junot Diaz, commends these students for putting their lives on the line.
“I got a call a few weeks ago, and several undocumented MIT students had seen the film and they were inspired to do something,’’ Mazzio says. “Several of the kids are going to stand up and reveal their identities for the first time. It’s really scary for them because they are protected by [the United States’ Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals directive], but it’s a temporary order and it’s really scary to go on the record.
“They put a lot at risk, but when they saw the film, they said, ‘You know what, we’re just like the kids in Phoenix that didn’t get to go anywhere, except we got lucky. We’re here at MIT.’’’
Despite receiving some level of protection under DACA, Mazzio knows that going public could result in very real consequences for the students. For instance, it’s quite easy to trace these kids back to their families, and many of them have already seen their fathers and mothers get deported.
Even for undocumented kids lucky enough to get an education at an institution like MIT, the future seems pretty bleak.
’’We’ve got one kid, he’s an aerospace engineer, he graduates in 2017 and is like, ‘What’s going to happen then? I want to go work for Boeing,’’’ Mazzio says. “’I can’t get hired because I don’t have American paperwork. What am I going to do? I have an aerospace engineering degree from MIT.’’’
But Mazzio is particularly happy with the way it’s helped bridge the divide between liberals and conservatives over immigration.
The director cites the film’s focus on how these undocumented students can have a huge impact on the economy as one reason for why people on the right are starting to change their tunes.
“We’re seeing really interesting interactions from both the left and the right,’’ Mazzio says. “Strange bedfellows… [it’s] exciting that you can get people who normally don’t work together to have a dialogue around the issue.
“You move beyond just rhetoric.’’
Mazzio hopes industry leaders take up the cause for reasons not involving dollar signs; she wants them to see how undocumented immigrants are everyday people looking to improve their lives like everyone else.
She hopes the film can show people the human side of immigration, and that it doesn’t matter where you come from in order to be successful.
’’I hope that people understand that talent and capability can come from zip codes you don’t expect, people that you might not assume,’’ Mazzio says. “Secondarily, if it humanizes the issue around who is here and is ready and willing to contribute, it’s exciting. It’s exciting to have this kind of talent, and it’s a complete waste to not leverage this talent.’’
The director knows that her movie alone won’t be the catalyst for social change, but she hopes that it will open people’s eyes just enough in order to get the conversation moving towards the right direction.
“Will this move the needle? I think it’s going to take a whole lot of different variables that will move the needle, but if this can start to change minds, that’s it,’’ Mazzio says. “If that human story translate to, ‘That could be my kid,’ you’ve started the process around social change.’’
Photos courtesy of 50 Eggs, Inc. (C) 2014 Richard Schultz