“Immigration Nation” Review Series Episode 1: Installing Fear

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After watching the first episode of the new “docuseries” on Netflix called “Immigration Nation, ” I wasn’t sure where to start talking about it, or what to even say about it. The amount of information in the first episode felt so overwhelming at first, that I didn’t automatically think about writing a review. Then I started reading a lot of things online about the documentary, and I realized how easy it is to watch something, and automatically view things from an extreme. I wanted to understand not just the documentary the way it was shared, but also understand the intention of the directors behind the scenes. Over the years, I have realized that the topic of immigration is on two extremes: either people don’t care/know anything about it, or they have a strict perception about what immigration should look like in the United States.

Before continuing, I want to share, that this series will be a 6 part series, since there are 6 episodes of this documentary. I have not read any specific reviews on this documentary online because I don’t want my personal reviews to be biased. After I finish reviewing the entire series, I will take a look at the reviews already written and compare certain views and points. I am choosing to write a review for each episode because there is too much to include in one article of the entire documentary. I want to do it justice as well as give myself space to write a concise and informative review.

So where did this documentary come from? I won’t go too in depth with the background but I will share a few links that you can personally check out if you want to read more about it at the end of this article. Directed by Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz, the series started filming in 2017–2020 to show the functions of the Immigration Customs Enforcement Agency under the Trump administration. Many people were surprised at how much footage they were able to include in the documentary. I myself was also quite shocked and impressed. In the first episode, they had footage in vehicle directly speaking to ICE officers, as well as one on one interviews with detainees. The directors were able to develop a contract with the ICE agency because of connections they had previously developed. I mean, everything is about the connections you have. That can give you access to many things! As the footage was getting ready to be released, ICE began to slow down the process because of issues they were having with some information. You can read more about it here, but Shaul Schwarz mentions “There was a long, unfortunate process of them trying to shift the editorial and doing it in what we saw as a very bullying way. And I’m sorry to say it, but I don’t think that’s a surprise anymore about this administration. We’ve seen it in other places. But it’s extremely unfortunate, especially because we had a great relationship with ICE for a long time. And we always say we’re grateful for the time we got to see the access, and we have no beef with the boots on the ground, so to speak.”

I will be reviewing this first episode in 2 parts:

Episode 1: Installing Fear *spoilers ahead*

The first episode opens up with ICE agents showing up to someone’s house, as they are starting to do raids. The raids have increased during the Trump administration, specifically because they are no longer focusing on criminal undocumented individuals, but undocumented individuals in general. One of the main takeaways from watching the first episode is that the information that is being shared is pretty unbiased. I say this because there are instances of ICE officers speaking, undocumented individuals speaking, there is no preferance. These groups get caught up in the politics and both are affected. I believe that this first episode lays down the foundation in showing the intersection between rule of law and humanity.

I understand some people might critique this documentary as just another example of people hating on the Trump administration. In reality, this documentary is so much more complex than that. This documentary shows the issues that are deep within the ICE agency that have been a part of it since it was born in 2003, separate from the Trump administation. In turn, immigration is a political topic: you cannot talk about immigration and not mention the current administration.

“All we are doing is enforcing the law and doing our job.”

This rhetoric was well intertwined into the episode. Men and women following the rules, detaining individuals that are caught with child pornography or in human trafficking rings that are truly dangerous to have in our communtiy. The film doesn’t show ICE officials or agents in a negative light, but it does bring to light problems that are very common in their line of work that I will share below.

Just like Schwarz mentioned, “I don’t think it shows them as the bad guy necessarily. I think it shows their reality. Again, I was a soldier. I served in a place where I didn’t agree with the politics. And maybe if someone documented everybody, everything, my platoon, it would at times look bad to me. I get it. Our message is: Look at the bigger, systemic problem” (link).

Content wise, the first episode gives a lot of facts as well as shows many scenes of actual ICE agents and officials doing their jobs and working directly with detainees. Even though it mentioned they had to do their jobs, it also showed their inner struggles with certain aspects of their jobs, like when they were forced to separate children from their families.

It showed the ecosystem of working as an ICE officials. How people are treated, how undocumented individuals are viewed targets, not completely being honest when they are knocking at people’s doors since they are not forced to share their ICE statuses, and a scene of an officer picking at a locked door to enter into an apartment building. More importantly, it showed that everything is based on numbers. Bringing the most detainees, showing up, having the offices filled with individual, getting them processed and getting them out. Like one official said,

“Start taking collaterals, man. I don’t care what you do, but bring at least two people in.”

Story wise, in the first episode, there is a balance between sharing personal stories of fathers that want to get reunited with their children, as well as sharing the perceptions of the ICE officers. Having that balance is key. It’s easy to critique, but hard to put yourself in everyone’s shoes that are being affected.

Overall, the first episode shows the raw reality of working in ICE as well as what it looks like for those that are detained, processed, and kept waiting until it is decided what to do with them. It makes you sit down and think about this problem, and ask yourself, what does a solution look like? What needs to be done? The episode touches upon the zero-tolerance policy in 2018. This is a much larger topic that I will address in next weeks article.

Schwarz’s quote from the LA Times is a great way to close this first segment: “You talk to the left and they’re like, “Abolish ICE, no wall.” And I’m like, “OK, but every country needs some kind of system.”And then you go to the other side and they’re like, “It’s all fake news.” And I was like, “Do you think we can deport veterans?” And they’re like, “You’re lying.” I think that’s really our focus now: to get some conversation going so we can agree on these things and actually change them and relax our screaming.”

Stay tuned for next weeks new review on episode 2: Maintaining Vigilance. It will be shorter, this one was longer because of the background info. in the beginning.

Thanks for reading!

Activist | Writer | Storyteller