New documentary Walking Merchandise features immigration lawyer Lauren Burke ’09

Lauren Burke '09Lauren Burke ’09, founder and director of Atlas DIY, is featured in the documentary Walking Merchandise, which traces the experiences of children who are sent by their families in Fujian, China to the United States in the company of human smugglers called “snakeheads.” After arriving in the U.S., these children are forced to work under poor conditions for less than minimum wage in order to pay off their families’ debts to the snakeheads.

During the filming of Walking Merchandise, Burke was a Skadden Fellow at The Door, where she represented immigrant youth in family and immigration court, as well as in the realm of educational and worker’s rights. Three of the children featured in the documentary were Burke’s clients.

“All of the clients that I represented in the film now have immigration status, which is very exciting,” says Burke, who continues to work representing victims of child trafficking in her capacity as as the founder and director of Atlas DIY, a center for immigrant youth and their allies, and as the in-house attorney for the New York Asian Women's Center. One of her former clients who was featured in the film is now in college, and has just won a scholarship to study abroad. Another comes regularly to volunteer and teach English at Atlas.

Burke stresses the importance of raising awareness about child trafficking and the snakehead trade. “One of the biggest issues of advocacy is when people just don’t believe that this is going on. Everyone who watches the film is shocked that this is happening in the United States,” Burke says.  “We’ve had a lot of people reach out after seeing the movie to ask how they can become involved.”

Walking Merchandise, directed by Ethan Downing and produced by Robert Nguyen, will be in the NewFilmmakers New York documentary short film program on December 5 at the Anthology Film Archives.

View Walking Merchandise here (29 min):