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While partisanship has gripped the immigration debate on Capitol Hill, a new web series is hoping to give a human face to the political debate over undocumented youth in the United States.
Inspired by writer Elaine Low’s own life story, Annie Undocumented is a new web series that stars Chinese-American actress Nikki SooHoo as a teenager who discovers she’s not a legal American citizen when she attempts to get her driver’s license. Low eventually became a citizen after marrying her longterm boyfriend, but remembers well the struggles she faced for many years without legal status.
“The show is very much inspired by the anxieties and dilemmas that Elaine and other undocumented youth face every single day,” said director Daniel Hsia, who knew Low for years before learning she was undocumented. “Everyone knows how tough it is to be a teenager…Now just imagine if you were also undocumented and had to keep that a secret for fear of getting your entire family kicked out of the country.”
Created by Hsia and Low, and produced by actor Brian Yang, Annie Undocumented aims to give viewers a look at what being an undocumented teen is like—an experience that millions of undocumented youth in America go through daily, yet rarely hear discussed when immigration makes headline news.
"There is an audience out there for this, even if they don’t know it yet."
“I’ve always felt a responsibility to bring light to subjects that don’t have as much light on it,” Yang said. “I read the script [for Annie Undocumented] and it was so well written that I thought, ‘These words set in this world? There is an audience out there for this, even if they don’t know it yet.’”
According to a recent Pew Research report, "There were 775,000 unauthorized children younger than age 18 in 2012."
SooHoo, best known for films such as Stick It and The Lovely Bones, said meeting Low and learning more about the struggles undocumented teens face compelled her to pursue the role.
“I don’t have any personal experience being undocumented, nor had I ever talked to anyone about their experience,” SooHoo said. “I had no idea what types of struggles and emotions undocumented immigrants had to face and I felt like it was a story that should be told so that people will be more understanding, compassionate, and aware.”
“We know there are tons of stories out there to be told, and we hope that our series will be a conversation starter."
Annie Undocumented is one of 62 selections in the 2014 New York Television Festival’s Independent Pilot Competition, and the first webisode will premiere in New York City at the end of October. The full eight webisode-series that the crew shot over the summer will launch online after the festival, and the team will wait to see where Annie goes from there.
“We know there are tons of stories out there to be told, and we hope that our series will be a conversation starter," said Yang.