Living Undocumented is a docu-series on Netflix that follows the lives of undocumented immigrants living in the United States. One family featured in the series is the Dunoyers who came to the US from Colombia in 2002 with their infant sons. The children, Pablo and Camilo Dunoyer, are now 20 and 17. Through their participation in Living Undocumented and running a social media campaign, they have been creating a brand for themselves in order to raise awareness of their situation and prevent their deportation. The Dunoyer brothers have learned to utilize self-branding techniques normally used by entrepreneurs to promote a political rather than financial cause.
The family began receiving death threats from a local gang when the father was working as a financial director at the city hall and refused to give the gang city funds. They fled after members of the gang were waiting at their home one night and threatened to kidnap and kill their children. When the Dunoyers went to the local police they were told that if they had any family outside of the country they should try to stay with them. Even after escaping to the United States, the family continues to receive letters from the gang threatening their family members that still live in Colombia.
The Dunoyers entered the U.S. legally on a visa, and applied for asylum when their visa expired. According to one of the brothers, the family’s asylum claim was denied because the dangers they were fleeing were only partially political; the other part was economic, and asylum is not granted on the grounds of economic need. The judge on their case determined that their situation was partially financial because the gang that has been threatening their lives is also demanding a ransom that the family cannot afford.
The Dunoyer brothers recognize social media’s power to share stories, as evidenced in Living Undocumented when they are seen discussing posting a new video and Camilo says, “you can post it on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, all of the above, basically anything that will get our message out there.” On May 25, 2018, one of Camilo’s friends posted a Twitter thread containing three videos of Camilo in which he describes the situation that forced his family to flee Colombia, their struggle to gain citizenship in the U.S., and the threat of deportation they are currently facing and tagged it with #FREECAMILO. The original tweet in this thread has over 400,000 views illustrating how “social media provides the means to broadcast one’s self-promotion far and wide” making it the ideal place for self-branding. Alice Marwick, a UNC professor who studies the social, political, and cultural implications of social media, reiterates this idea that social media is important in both building a brand and sharing it with others when she says “a successful personal brand involves…multiple social media accounts, the distribution of content using the internet, and the promotion of this content using social media.” By sharing their message across social media platforms and telling their story in the Netflix series, the Dunoyer brothers are utilizing all three of the strategies Marwick asserts successful self-branding needs.
Marwick describes self-branding as “the idea of turning yourself into a brand” through the application of “a series of marketing strategies…to the individual.” While the Dunoyer brothers are utilizing the social media marketing strategies that Marwick associates with self-branding, she views self-branding as something which “will only be successful for a slim sliver of the population” namely, white men, especially those working in tech. Undocumented immigrants like the Dunoyer brothers are not the target audience for the ‘how-to’ books on self-branding Marwick discusses, nor are they similar to the white men and women Marwick discusses who have seen financial success through self-branding. The Dunoyer case is also different in their overall goal; while Marwick’s self-branders are focused on the financial possibilities of self-branding, the Dunoyers are employing self-branding to stop the deportation of their family and remain in the only country they’ve ever known. Deportation carries an additional risk for the family as they are still actively being threatened by the gang that forced them to flee in the first place, so any members of the family who are deported back to Colombia would be in imminent danger.
The Dunoyers may have proven to be one of the “exceptional cases” in which self-branding succeeds as following the viral #FREECAMILO video, the Dunoyer’s appointment with ICE regarding their deportation was canceled and not rescheduled. Camilo said that their lawyers were shocked as ICE rarely behaves that way and that he, “feel[s] like ICE is waiting… for things to settle so they don’t look as bad” for deporting his family. Since filming on the series wrapped, Roberto, the Dunoyer father was deported. This has led Camilo and Pablo to go into hiding as they fear that they are being targeted by ICE due to the success of their self-branding campaign. The story of the Dunoyers and their immigration experience is very different from the stereotypical depiction of immigration propagated by anti-immigrant politicians and news outlets. Their story shows that even when asylum seekers do everything legally they can still be deported when U.S. immigration officers fail to recognize the unique dangers each immigrant fled in their home country.
Chantal Da Silva. (2019, October 16). Brothers featured in Netflix’s “Living Undocumented” series say they have had to go into hiding and give up school to avoid ICE. Newsweek. https://www.newsweek.com/netflix-living-undocumented-series-camilo-pablo-dunoyer-hiding-ice-1465609
Saidman, A., & Chai, A. (2019, October 2). Living Undocumented [Series]. Netflix. https://www.netflix.com/watch/80993349?trackId=14170286&tctx=3%2C0%2C389df121-52a2-4152-849d-6628bfc18a49-101620994%2C3572b235-8fb7-4aff-9b24-0ab584ea40dc_5925766X3XX1573174061196%2C3572b235-8fb7-4aff-9b24-0ab584ea40dc_ROOT
Sultan, R. [@Ramzilla_400]. (2018, May 25). “A Thread: Hi, This my friend Camilo…Pt. 3” [Tweet thread]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/Ramzilla_400/status/1000146918918438912.
Written by [Refugees Welcome!] intern, Alexa DeRosa.
Alexa worked with [RW!] from September 2019 until May 2020 on the Communications team. She just graduated from McGill University in Montreal where she studied International Development with minors in Communications Studies and Religion and Globalization.