Yesterday I was at my daughter’s Christmas program filming her two songs when my phone ran out of storage space. Halfway through the second song I realized that instead of paying attention to her singing, I was frantically trying to free up space so I could get the performance recorded. And then it hit me, documenting the moment was just as important as the moment itself.

Just last week I sat through a 3 hour and 15 minute college graduation ceremony that ran long because many of the graduates wanted to take a selfie with the president as they received their diploma. Documenting the moment was as important as the moment itself.

Recently a powerful video was created as social commentary for the fact that we have to have our phones with us constantly. Seemingly there’s never a moment where we can get away from them. They invade our lives and to some, seem to interrupt our lives.

Contrast this with the most recent commercial by Apple. In it a teen is shown ignoring his family while playing on his phone. At the end of the spot however, the tables are turned as we see that the boy has created a meaningful video for his family documenting the holidays together. Regardless of whether you agree with Apple’s take on technology’s dominant position in our lives, it’s hard to deny the emotion of the spot.

 I want to suggest that both of these videos capture at their essence a fundamental transition that has taken place in our culture: without documentation, life isn’t complete. It’s as if it didn’t happen. One laments while the other celebrates, but both accept the new tenet as true.

Without the pictures to post on Facebook, the engagement experience isn’t complete. Through social media we’re invited into the process of labor and delivery like never before. It’s euphoric to then post pictures of the new arrival. The scene from the first video where the newly engaged couple is kissing and trying to take the selfie at the same time captures this new world perfectly. Like it or not, this is our cultural reality in 2013.

 And whether you’ve read this piece so far with joy or disgust at the current state of society, I want to point out one thing this shift has uniquely qualified you to experience: empathy with an undocumented immigrant. 

There are 11 Million people in the United States who have an illegal immigration status. Maybe they came legally and overstayed their visa. Maybe they crossed the desert in search of work or to escape violence. Maybe they road the trains north looking for their parents. Maybe they were brought here as an infant.

Regardless of how or the reasons why they came, they’re here. And if we who are documented are honest with ourselves, we’re glad that they’re here. Undocumented immigrants pick much of the produce in our nation, build many of the house, cook much of our food at restaurants, and clean many of our homes. We love that our lives are cheaper and easier because they are here.

But, do we ever stop to think about their lives? About the fact that in most states they can’t get a drivers license or other form of ID? That if they pay into social security they’ll never see any of the benefits? That they’re often afraid to report crimes perpetrated against themselves because they’re afraid of their own deportation? That in many states if they graduate from high school they can’t continue on to college? And that in the states where they can, even if they get a Ph.D. without the President’s deferred action program they wouldn’t be able to get a job?

Do we think about the fact that under our laws undocumented immigrants are non-persons? Our corporations are given the right of personhood, but actual people are denied it. And herein lies the crux of the modern undocumented immigrant experience: as a society we’ve denied them the right to exist legally in our country. We love the benefits we receive from having them, but we don’t want them.

In an age where life is not complete or a moment doesn’t exist unless it is documented, we’ve stopped at nothing to pursue technological innovation to allow us to have our documenting devices with us at all times. Our phones are smaller, our internet connections quicker, our apps are more advanced. We want our lives to be full, to matter, to mean something (not just to others, but to ourselves as well).

 Can we be as dogged in our pursuit for documentation for actual people as we are for the fleeting moments of our lives?

So, the next time you unconsciously reach for your phone to document a moment before it is gone, stop and think about the undocumented immigrants all around you. The next time you post an update to social media to invite more of your friends to share in what you’ve experienced, consider sharing a link to this article or one from the Evangelical Immigration Table or The Dream is Now (founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, Steve Jobs’ widow. How beautiful is it that the wife of the man who innovated so greatly to help us document our lives is helping youth in their desire to be documented?) to help others engage the immigration debate. How can your drive to document your life help you begin to advocate for those whose entire lives are without documentation?

 Because, as we all know now, life is not as complete without documentation.

No one should have an undocumented life. We can fix this.

image credit: Jason Howie