Immigration Nation might be the only Netflix documentary you will have a hard time binge-watching or even recommending. From beginning to end, the sadness of seeing families separated at the border of Mexico and the United States, the terror of watching U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) vigorously knocking on doors to capture their target without a warrant, and the anger of hearing an ICE agent laughing at every undocumented they arrest, will make you stop several times.
But still, it is definitely a must-watch.
For the empathetic ones, this show is going to be a roller coaster of emotions. For the immigrant, it can be triggering, and for the tough ones and anti-immigrants, this documentary can make you sensitive or aware of the struggle and pain of migrants and their families.
Equally disgusting and unbelievable, the level of pettiness proudly presented by ICE agents on camera while executing Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy revealed a system run by racism rather than justice.
The 6-part docu-series, directed by filmmakers Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz, received opposition from President Trump who tried to block its release. According to The New York Times, the federal law enforcement agency under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security requested to delay the broadcast until after the election.
As The Times explains, the filmmakers’ lawyer, Victoria S. Cook, was able to negotiate a contract with journalistic independence wherethe U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency could only review drafts and request changes based on “factual inaccuracies, violations of privacy rights or the inclusion of law enforcement tactics that could either hinder officers’ abilities to do their jobs or put them in danger.”
The newspaper also reported that Matthew T. Albence, current acting director of ICE, signed on behalf of the government.
In an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look, we can witness how the organization’s officers lie and only identify themselves as “police”, instead of ICE, to gain access to people’s houses. As of 2018, and according to the U.S. Supreme Court 8-1 ruling, an officer can’t search your home or enter your property without a warrant. This means that the area around your home is protected under the law. Any police officer wandering around your property without your consent is in violation unless they ask you for permission to go inside and you agree.
It’s also painful to watch what happens when ICE officers can’t find the specific person they allegedly are looking for.
Labeled by the agency as”collaterals,” the officers proceed to arrest any undocumented immigrant —usually caught unaware — inside the property just to fill their quotas. “Start taking collaterals, man. I don’t care what you do, but bring in at least two people,” demanded a supervisor to an officer over the phone.
Although the collateral apprehension might look on camera as an unfortunate situation for people that were at the wrong place at the wrong time, one of the filmmakers revealed to TIME that this is, in fact, a common practice.
“That happens all the time,” Schwarz said. “It’s the reality of day-to-day life in ICE. It wasn’t an isolated moment. Once the boots on the ground felt comfortable speaking with us, we got a very real peek into what it was like.”
Immigration Nation consistently reveals officers’ true colors but is almost at the end of the documentary, when the lack of compassion is completely out in the open. While driving across in the desert near Tucson, Arizona, Border Patrol’s Search, Trauma and Rescue Unit (BORSTAR) gives medical help to a disoriented and dehydrated migrant trying to arrive to Los Angeles and is suffering from several injuries,
The agent offers water and treats the man with so much care that viewers almost think that the documentary will end up in a positive note. However, right after he’s done and an ambulance transport the man, the BORSTAR agent tells a coworker how much of a treat was for him to help Border Patrol apprehend immigrants. “That moment was so interesting, to see them switch hats like that,” Schwarz says. “You saw kindness and humanity, but for Border Patrol, their job is to catch people. As the ambulance is leaving, they’re chit-chatting among themselves about how they chase people all the time.”
The Arizona desert is labeled as one of the deadliest places in the nation. Claiming the lives of thousands of migrants for its unforgivable temperatures that can exceed 120 degrees, this desolated, perilous and rocky desert is used daily by the coyotes (human smugglers) and their clients, that after showing the very first sign of weakness to continue are left behind without remorse.
Climate conditions, Border Patrol, and city ICE agents are not the only problems that immigrants encounter. Those who are lucky enough to cross to the United States and find jobs in the construction field are exposed to wage theft. Another villain of Immigration Nation is Tommy Hamm, owner of Winterfell, a construction company accused of refusing to pay immigrant workers in Panama City, Florida.
After Hurricane Michael in 2018, Winterfell Construction hired a high amount of undocumented immigrants to repair the houses of the area to later allegedly refused to pay for their labor and even threatened then to call ICE.
As a way to help immigrants victims of wage theft, a group called The Resilience Force helps them to understand and fight for their labor rights. On one occasion, they gathered outside Hamm’s house to demand payment from his employees. As a member of the Bay County Board of County Commissioners, Hamm felt sufficiently entitled to deny knowing any of the employees and requested a restraining order against them and the organization.
Like Resilience Force, immigration rights organizer and TPS recipient from El Salvador, Stefania Arteaga, also help undocumented immigrants by putting herself in danger and fighting ICE’s illegal actions. Arteaga follows patrols in the Charlotte, N.C. area, and with a cellphone in hand, she livestreams the abuse, reminding immigrants of their rights to request a lawyer and to stay silent. “What type of operation is this? You’re undercover so we’re just trying to make sure we know who is on our streets,” she says to one officer.
She also successfully fought the agency against the 287(g) program, which allows the Department of Homeland Security to use state or local law enforcement agencies to do the work of federal agents. “Stefania, she is a force,” Clusiau said to TIME. “She realized the 287(g) program was something they could really push back against, and they did. They had an issue they could really stand behind.”
“For immigration advocates, these last couple years have been tremendously hard,” Schwarz says. “When you spend so much time in this broken system, you tend to lose hope. But she embodied something that’s amazing about democracy. She created this pushback and put herself in the middle of it. There’s something to be said about it.”