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An Ashland Immigrant’s Life Or Death Journey To The American Dream

For the past two years, longtime Ashland resident, businessman, and once undocumented immigrant, Laz Ayala has been producing a documentary about his life and the lives of fellow immigrants who come to the U.S. seeking better opportunities. He plans to release the film at independent film festivals across the country, including the Ashland Independent Film Festival in April, in hopes of making an impact on the 2020 presidential election and inspiring the country to use their voice for good on this divisive topic.


From The Filmmaker

Nickolas Alexander – Director of Illegal (his first feature-length film)

In 2016 when I graduated from university, I told people that my dream was to film a documentary in Latin America. At the time I was clueless of how this would come to pass — until the day I met Laz Ayala, an immigrant from El Salvador.


Laz and I met at the Southern Oregon Rotary Club where I was hired to film Laz’s speech. Thirty-minute keynote — nothing out of the ordinary, right? Wrong. After hearing Laz’s testimony, I was inspired by his life story, suggesting that it could be a powerful film. In November 2018, I was chosen to direct his movie and my dream became a reality. At that time my motivation for telling Laz’s story was purely biographical — to give the American public an opportunity to step into the immigrant’s shoes and learn about their story of determination, struggle, and success.


As we near completion of the film, I realize that sharing Laz’s narrative is not just a “feel-good” underdog success story; rather, it is about finding a solution to the conundrum of illegal immigration. One that is humane, impartial, and a win-win for the migrant, employer, and American society. Creating this movie has become more than just achieving a personal dream, but standing up for something that really matters in this life — humanity. Everyone has a name, a story, and a dream. Proudly, I share with you the story of Laz Ayala.


About The Film

From “Dreamer” to living the American dream, Illegal is a feature-length documentary about the miraculous journey of Salvadoran immigrant Laz Ayala, the challenges of present-day immigration, and his mission to humanize immigrants and reform U.S. immigration policy for the benefit of all.


This story begins as Laz journeys back to his childhood home in El Salvador where we learn about the bitter civil war of the 1980s. A war that pushed him out of his homeland into a dangerous, 3,000-mile journey to the United States at only 14 years-old. Illegal chronicles his arduous path north on the Pan American Highway with his father and brother where at any moment they could be discovered and turned back, or worse, killed.

But, there was no other option. Tortured and decapitated bodies began to appear in his hometown, friends went missing, Laz’s father was placed on the death squad list, and Laz and his brother were recruited as child soldiers by the military. Despite their love of country and community, they knew they had to flee to survive.


Crammed into the trunk of a brown Cadillac, Laz and his family cross the border as undocumented immigrants facing an unknown future in a foreign land.


How he adapts to life in a new country and rises through the ranks to become one of the area’s seven-figure earners, an employer of many, and a U.S. citizen could be story enough.


However, the story does not end here. As a successful businessman, Laz lowers the opportunity ladder by giving back to his community in Southern Oregon and abroad in El Salvador. And now, is tackling another project – undocumented immigration.


Amidst the turbulent narrative surrounding immigration today, Laz confronts the matter head-on, discovering the truth, and proposing a solution that would give voice and better opportunities to immigrants, as well as accountability and a much-needed labor force to the U.S. employer. In essence, a common-sense solution that is beneficial to immigrants, employers, and the entire nation.


A Word From Laz

Thank you to the individuals and families along the border that shared their heartbreaking stories and to the dozens of people whose voices are shared throughout the film. Hopefully, this project can be a doorway to provide a voice to the voiceless 11.3 million undocumented immigrants living in this country today.

My goal is to have this film shown at film festivals across the country in the hopes of reaching the hearts and minds of the American people and inspire them to use their voices to demand change. The time is now and we need our audience and community to help us get there.


How You Can Help

For two years the film has been entirely self-funded. Together, our team has volunteered money, time, and resources to this project. And, we’ve had a wonderful support system (both in Ashland and El Salvador). Now, we’re seeking your support to help us get across the finish line!


If you’d like to learn more about Illegal or make a donation to help us submit the film to independent film festivals across the country, please visit our website.


*This article first appeared on the Ashland Locals Guide.



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