Immigration Nation: With Liberty And Justice For None

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Watching Immigration Nation is like getting kicked in the gut. It is a devastating look into the heart of darkness of the Donald Trump administration and the America that it has unleashed a nation that no longer welcomes immigrants as its muscle and forces them to live in fear and the shadows. 

After watching the six-hour documentary series produced by Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz, you are left with how cut-off the rank and file Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) officials are from the suffering of the people whose lives they destroy daily. 

Immigrant Nation began streaming on Netflix August 3rd and documented unprecedented access to ICE officials’ day to day during the span of three years. It’s not a pretty picture. ICE officials tried to stop it airing until after the November presidential elections. We are lucky they failed.  

The documentary shows ICE agents laugh as they arrest to make up the quota arresting those convicted of crimes and whoever else happens to be near (they call that collateral damage,) make fun of accents and joke about the arrested not making it home that day, all while behaving like it was just another day in the office. They are just doing their job is what they keep on saying. 

ICE operations changed for the worse under Trump. His administration has cordoned off the U.S. southern border, cut legal immigration, instituted a policy of separating families, and hampered foreign policy toward Latin America on the issue, according to the Migration Policy Institute, 

But Trump is not the only president called out by Immigration Nation. Former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton are also signaled out for laying the foundation that allowed Trump’s immigration policy.  

This all leaves you with the bitter understanding that the promise of the Pledge of Allegiance “with liberty and justice for all” is not meant for everybody.

The saving grace comes in at Episode 4, “The New Normal,”  with the introduction of the Resilience Force.

Resilience Force is a national initiative to transform the nation’s response to disasters by strengthening and securing America’s Resilience Workforce the millions of people whose work, heart, and expertise make sustainable recovery from disasters possible.

Saket Soni, Resilience Force executive director, and resilience workers in Florida fight alongside immigrant workers on the front lines of climate disasters helping the U.S. recover and rebuild.

“The New Normal” gives the viewer a distressing glimpse of how immigrants are exploited for labor.  Immigrant Nation visits Panama City, Florida, where several migrant workers were hired to help rebuild damaged homes following Hurricane Michael in 2018.

Be Latina spoke with Cynthia Hernandez, a senior member of Resilience Force and an immigrant to the U.S. herself, about Resilience Force and the resilience workers in the episode and how they work to reimagine a new normal where immigrants are recognized, rewarded, and freed from fear.

“We decided to build a resilience force to advocate and protect you know, the thousands of workers who helped rebuild cities and towns and state after natural disasters such as hurricanes, wildfires, or flooding. And I will say that you know the majority are immigrant workers who are doing this, but there certainly are Americans as well,” Hernandez said.

“We’re seeing more hurricanes, more wildfires, and everything is intensifying, they’re getting stronger and stronger. And because of climate change, and as a result of that, you know, this very unique workforce is going to grow. And this country needs immigrants. It needs this workforce,” she said.

In the episode, the contracting firm Winterfell Construction hires several workers to work on repairs but then allegedly refuses to pay them. And because many of these workers were undocumented, the latter had no means of legal recourse and were even threatened with a call to ICE if they continued to insist on being paid. 

Resilience Force comes in to organize the workers and campaign for their labor rights. The group leads a worker protest outside the home of Tommy Hamm, the founder and head of Winterfell Construction, demanding full payment. The workers are owed thousands of dollars. 

By far, the star of the episode is Stefania Arteaga, a Resilience Force worker and a Salvadoran immigrant. Arteaga is everywhere in the face of ICE officials, shooting questions at them like machine-gun fire, standing in their way, defending the immigrant workers’ rights. To see Arteaga confront ICE officials is worth the pain of watching the series. 

Immigration is one of America’s most divisive issues, even though immigrants are America’s essential workers. They feed America; they are in healthcare and childcare, farming and food systems, construction, and manufacturing.  

“And so this industry is a workforce, obviously made up of essential workers, and we hope that in the future, you know the country can recognize and value and appreciate the work that they’re doing,” Hernandez said.  

James Baldwin, the African-American writer, and playwright, and one of the most important voices of the 20th century, wrote to the core of what “The New Normal” tried to illustrate:

“There are so many ways of being despicable; it quite makes one’s head spin. But the way to be really despicable is to be contemptuous of other people’s pain.”