Vulture: “Why You Could Be Seeing a Lot of Immigrant Stories on TV This Fall”

by Joseph McKeown

As immigration topics inspire heated debate across the country, Americans may see more storylines about the immigrant experience on television this upcoming fall. While some shows—including One Day at a Time, Jane the Virgin, and Ugly Betty—have all dealt with various aspects of the immigrant experience at one time or another, seven upcoming projects for the pilot season feature immigrants as lead characters dealing head-on with deportation, the DACA program, access to health care for immigrants, and the refugee experience. While these projects are still in the development stages and not guaranteed to be picked up for a full series by the networks, they demonstrate that the entertainment industry is realizing how important, powerful, and compelling these stories are. 

Party of Five, a remake of the ‘90s drama, will focus on a Mexican-American family whose children must learn to take care of themselves after their parents are deported. In the show, the oldest child will be a DACA recipient, while the younger siblings will be US citizens. Chris Keyser and Amy Lippman, who created the original version of the show, were inspired to do a re-boot after reading an article about immigrant families who must figure out a plan if both parents are deported.  “It’s such a present issue,” Lippman tells New York Magazine. “It’s unavoidable and heartbreaking and it’s on the news every single night.”

The memoir by Orange is the New Black actress Diane Guerrero is the inspiration for another proposed series, In the Country We Love. In her memoir, Guerrero describes growing up as a child of undocumented immigrants from Colombia who were deported when she was only fourteen. The new drama, currently being considered by Fox, is loosely based on Guerrero’s story and will follow a New York City lawyer whose family was deported, inspiring her to begin taking on pro bono cases for undocumented immigrants. “Our hopes are that we will cover all sorts of immigration issues and really have a chance to explain and try to teach the audience what the immigration system looks like in America,” Guerrero says. 

Rafael Agustin, who grew up as an honor-roll student in California and was class president and prom king, didn’t find out he was undocumented until he applied for college. He is writing a show based loosely on his life that will take place in the ‘90s. “No one knew what undocumented students were or how to deal with them,” Agustin says of his childhood. “So it’s great to be able to view something that’s so relevant today but with that arm length of time. Not much has changed.”

Another project is Have Mercy, which focuses on a Cuban doctor who immigrates to Miami but is unable to practice medicine in the US as she cannot afford the expensive exams and lengthy medical residency requirements. As a result, she works as a surgical nurse’s assistant, but soon turns her home into a makeshift clinic for undocumented immigrants who are afraid that by seeking medical treatment at hospitals they will expose themselves to deportation. Other projects include ABC’s single-camera comedy Sanctuary Family about a white family who provide sanctuary for their nanny and her family, and an adaption of DACA beneficiary Karla Cornejo Villavicencio’s upcoming book Undocumented America about the immigrant experience across the US.

Welcome to Maine, a proposed CBS project, features a group of Syrian refugees who settle in a small town in Maine and open a business next to a diner whose owner is resistant to change in the community. Writer-producer Austen Earl explains that amid anti-immigration sentiment that has grown stronger under the Trump administration, it’s important to tell real stories about immigrants who are often demonized. “The majority of Muslims in America are doing great things, and I love the idea of doing a show that tells real stories about them rather than just seeing them as enemies or plotting some sinister crime,” he says.