La Cañada resident, attorney advises Netflix series ‘Living Undocumented’

Alejandra Juarez says goodbye to her daughter Pamela at the airport in front of news crews as she boards a plane to Mexico. The image is from a new documentary series “Living Undocumented,” which highlights eight stories of people navigating a complex system. The show will be released Oct. 2.
(Courtesy of Netflix)

Local attorney Patricia Corrales spent 17 years prosecuting complex denaturalization cases for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and Department of Homeland Security before she moved to the other side of the courtroom, defending similar clients in private practice.

Her unique experience and working knowledge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operations have made the La Cañada Flintridge resident the subject of several news interviews. She also produces and hosts “Justice Matters,” a community access program that focuses on immigration and criminal law.

So when the creators of a new Netflix original documentary series “Living Undocumented” — which highlights eight undocumented families of differing statuses and socioeconomic backgrounds struggling to live and work in America — were looking for an expert to break down the complexities of U.S. immigration policy, Corrales was a natural choice.

La Cañada resident and attorney Patricia Corrales appears in a new documentary series “Living Undocumented."
(Courtesy of Patricia Corrales)

Executive producer Aaron Saidman, who shares directing credit with Anna Chai, said it took a full year to find and document the personal stories of the series’ subjects. But when filming wrapped, it became apparent a broader perspective on immigration policy and case law was needed.

“Patty’s brilliant, gives us great historical context and is a uniquely qualified expert, having both been an attorney for Homeland Security, previously INS, who’s now an attorney working on the other side of the ledger,” Saidman said of Corrales. “Without that broader framework you don’t fully understand the gravity and import of what it is you’re watching.”

After working to revoke citizenship and deport offenders under the administrations of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Corrales left Homeland Security in 2012 to dedicate time to her family and establish a private practice in Pasadena.

“I enjoyed it, and was proud of the work I did,” Corrales said of her federal cases. “The work the government tried to do to better the immigration system was really quite fair.”

By contrast, immigration policy under the Trump administration functions differently, she said. Attorneys do not have the same level of discretion to prioritize cases against defendants who are serious offenders, as opposed to cases against people seeking sanctuary or better living conditions.

Now Corrales works to defend immigrants called up on charges by the same agencies for which she used to prosecute.

“When I look at a case, I look at it through the lens of a former attorney for Homeland Security and ask, ‘How would I prosecute this?’ Then I turn it around to see how I would defend it — I have both perspectives,” she said.

When the producers of “Living Undocumented” approached Corrales for her expert analysis and commentary, she was happy to oblige.

“These stories being told are beautiful stories of individuals who, in their own different way have encountered obstacles in the immigration system through no fault of their own,” she said of the series. “It’s a poignant story that really discusses immigration in a real human way.”

Saidman said he and co-producer Eli Holzman were approached two years ago by independent producer Sean O’Grady with the story of a Nigerian chef in Los Angeles whose rising star conflicted with his immigration status. They found the story an eye-opening reminder that the issues of U.S. immigration extend much further than a single border. Selena Gomez and her mother, Mandy Teefey, are listed as co-executive producers of the series.

“It was important to us and to Netflix this series would include a complex diversity of stories — family separation, DACA, political asylum, people who’ve overstayed their visas and people who crossed the border illegally for various reasons,” he said. “It was important for us to reflect all the faces that are behind this issue.”

“Living Undocumented” premiers globally on Netflix on Oct. 2.

Support our coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.