‘Five Years North’ highlights all sides of those caught in our immigration system

Luis is the center of the new documentary "Five Years North."
Luis is the center of the new documentary "Five Years North."
Credit Chris Temple

In the fiscal year of 2020, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as. ICE, said it carried out more than 185,000 deportations of immigrants living in the United States. A new documentary, “Five Years North,” looks at the life of Luis, a child migrant living in the U.S., after his escape from Guatemala. Documentarians and directors Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci began filming Luis’s family, as well as other key figures in his story such as a Hispanic ICE agent named Judy, a decade ago. Luis is sixteen now, having made it to New York City with hopes of supporting his family back home. “Five Years North” will premiere on World Channel as part of their “America Reframed” series, accompanied by a streamed talk by the directors on Oct. 6. Ingrasci joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about his experience filming this heart-wrenching documentary.

Interview highlights:

Luis’s story:

“Ten years ago, Chris and myself were filming our first documentary called ‘Living On One Dollar’ in this village of Peña Blanca, this rural… Mayan village in Guatemala,” said Ingrasci. “Luis, who makes a cameo in that film, just became one of our favorite little kids – he was like, seven at the time…. Because of that first film we were able to go back every single year and really follow Luis and his journey as he grew up and faced abject poverty in this community, and ultimately felt like the only path forward was to come north to the United States.”

“Over and over… as we spoke to Luis and his uncle and his cousins, their dream was to go to the United States for five years, make enough money to build a house back in Guatemala to support their family, to start a small business, and then return back to their village,” said Ingrasci. “This concept of what those five years are like, and what you have to endure for those five years to provide for your family, is really what this film is about.”

“Our immigration system is creating a mental health crisis. The amount of stress and the amount of hoops that Luis had to go through ultimately created panic attacks for Luis, and he ended up in the hospital,” said Ingrasci. “There just [are] not enough resources to support a young person like Luis, and there’s so much more that we could be doing.”

Perspectives from a Hispanic ICE agent:

“We eventually, after a year, got permission to film with ICE, and we ended up meeting Judy, who… is this Hispanic woman whose mother resettled refugees for forty years, and yet [Judy] is an ICE agent. And I think that complexity of showing that the Latinx experience in our country is not monolithic, and the complexity of her feeling like this was a job that she couldn’t give up, really was important to talk about.”

“Judy joined ICE before it was even called ICE, it was INS. And she’s been there since 2003 when it became ICE, and Homeland Security was formed,” Ingrasci said. “So obviously, being a couple years away from retirement, it’s interesting what she’s done to, I think in some ways, protect herself from the things she witnesses and does every day. I think in the film, you get to see how she’s created this kind of ‘black and white,’ that I hope we can challenge through some of the experiences that you witness of Luis and Ernest.”

On a system whose narrow restrictions fail the impoverished:

“[With] the specific term refugee, or asylum seeker, you have to meet a certain qualification of escaping violence, or escaping having a direct threat to your life. Unfortunately, Luis was escaping poverty, which is not included in that definition. So there are many terms, but the reality is that our immigration system is unjust, and far beyond broken. And for Luis, as you see in this film, the amount of things that you have to grapple with as a kid alone, a sixteen-year-old alone in New York City, was pretty unimaginable.”

“As we’ve made it more difficult to cross the border, smugglers have been able to charge more money to do that, and so oftentimes that cost will be $10,000. In this case, Luis was responsible for him and his father’s debt, because his father was sent back, and it’s a huge amount of money for someone coming from a community living in abject poverty. It’s an amount of money that, the reality is, it traps people into this cycle where once you try and come, you have to keep trying because there’s no way you could pay off that kind of debt if you stay in Guatemala,” said Ingrasci.

“We happened to be with both Luis and with Judy on [Fourth of July], and… we hope that moment makes you really think about what you believe this country should stand for, because I don’t believe we’re upholding the values that we’re preaching, and there are so many people in these gray areas of our society that are just being put through absolute hell,” said Ingrasci. “I hope that the story of Luis, someone who’s so sweet and kind, can inspire people to continue this ongoing fight for immigration reform, for supporting new arrivals to our country.”

“Five Years North” will stream as part of World Channel’s “America Reframed” series with a talk by the directors on Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. More information is available at

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