“East of Salinas,” an “Independent Lens” film Monday night on PBS, features the third-grade teacher Oscar Ramos. CreditJackie Mow, via PBS 

At the end of “East of Salinas,” Monday night’s “Independent Lens” film on PBS, a title card puts the story we have just seen about a migrant boy named José Ansaldo into statistical context.

“José is one of two million undocumented children living in the United States today,” it says.

That bit of data is evidence that the phenomenon examined in the film needs attention, but it’s also the reason that “East of Salinas” isn’t especially useful in illuminating it.

The film, by Laura Pacheco and Jackie Mow, follows a stretch in the life of José, an 8-year-old who was born in Mexico but came to the United States with his parents, who are migrant farmworkers living near Salinas, Calif. It is also the story of Oscar Ramos, a teacher who grew up in similar circumstances and now puts extra effort into José and students like him, taking them on field trips and looking in on their home lives.

Everyone in the film checks off the assigned boxes on the aspirational-immigrant list: José talks of the things he wants to be when he grows up; his parents, who do backbreaking work in the fields, speak of wanting a better life for their children; Mr. Ramos hopes the potential in all his students can be realized.

It would be nice if all two million stories in this universe were as filled with diligence and good intentions, but of course no two are the same, and many are far less clear-cut. And there are complex factors underlying all of them that are not explored in this film: the varying reasons children are taken or sent to the United States; the financial and other pressures the influx puts on local communities; the politics and economics of the migrant-labor world.

It’s heartening to see that teachers like Mr. Ramos exist and sobering to sample the obstacles facing one young, apparently bright immigrant boy, but this is the kind of film that some people latch on to in arguing for simplistic solutions to complicated problems.