Here is a major problem rich countries are facing: Their populations are getting old. In Italy, for example, the median age is 43.5, and it's expected that by 2033, one-third of its citizens will be older than 65. That time is not that far away, and, as the economist Mark Blyth points out in his book Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, those who are holding Italy's long-term sovereign debt must be seriously wondering who is going to pay the interest on their 30-year bonds when the country will also be working to pay the pensions for all of these old people.
The simple solution would be to open the doors to immigrants, but Italy's citizens want nothing to do with that option. The United States is also heading in this direction. A recent Census Bureau report predicts that by 2050, as much as a fifth of the US population will be older than 65. The reason the US is not as old as Italy or other European countries is most likely its large immigrant population. Indeed, its relative youth among rich countries might be one of the reasons the Long Recession has not hit the US as hard as it should have. But a look at the political climate makes it clear that America is far from seeing the writing on the wall.
With all of this in mind, let's now turn to the documentary Documented, by and about the journalist Jose Antonio Vargas. He was born in the Philippines but sent to the US at the age of 12 to live with his grandparents. He had no idea he was undocumented until the age of 16, when he attempted to get a driver's license and was devastated when told that his green card wasn't real. Later, he developed a deep interest in journalism. After graduating from San Francisco State, he got a job at the Washington Post, where he won a Pulitzer Prize. Later, he wrote and reported for CNN, the New Yorker, and the Huffington Post. During this time, Vargas also revealed to his family that he's gay.
In 2011, he decided to come out of the shadows and admit, in an essay for the New York Times Magazine, that he had no papers. The reason for making this public was to bring awareness to the millions of young people who were in his predicament—they came into the country as children and, though not recognized by the state, became American in every other sense of the word.
All of this is covered in his engaging documentary, as well as the heartbreaking moment when he learns by phone that he doesn't qualify for President Obama's 2012 Dream Act (it applied only to undocumented immigrants under the age of 30—Vargas was 31). Documented also explores Vargas's painful relationship with his mother. She lives in the Philippines and, because he has no papers, he has not been able to visit her in two decades. The mother has tried to keep in contact with him, but he has consistently rejected her letters and calls. (She saw putting him on that plane as a gift; he came to see it as a form of betrayal.) When his mother tried to friend him on Facebook, he did not "confirm" her. The scene where she describes that rejection is, again, heartbreaking. "He has all of these friends he does not know," she says, with tears streaming from her eyes, "and yet he would not friend his own mother." Vargas eventually tries to connect with her through Skype, but it is clear from his voice and look that he has a long road ahead before the pain he feels about being abandoned as a boy will have healed.
To conclude: If America does not want to end up like Italy and the rest of old and sad Europe, it's going to have to be welcoming to young people like Vargas.