Review: Immigration Nation

Immigrants in detention in Immigration Nation

Immigration Nation takes a long look at the current status of immigration into the United States. It looks from every angle – that of the immigrants, that of ICE, that of Homeland Security, that of activists, that of volunteers. It focuses in on individual people and how policies affect them.

Immigration Nation tells one story that doesn’t include the ending in the series. I was frustrated not to learn what happened. It was the story of a Marine who served his country but was deported after being caught with marijuana in New Mexico. He came back illegally and lived in Nevada. In the 2016 elections, he was interested in the newly elected governor of the state of New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham. She had said she didn’t think veterans should be deported.

He took a chance and drove to New Mexico with the hope of talking to her and asking for a pardon. The series didn’t show how that part of the story turned out, but Lujan Grisham did pardon him.

An ICE officer asking to enter a home in Immigration Nation

Many different ICE officers and government officials allowed cameras to follow them. They explained their jobs and talked about why they thought it was important. There were judges and one particularly obnoxious PR guy who allowed cameras as well.

At the same time, the camera focused on immigrants from Mexico, Central America, South America, and Africa. Their stories were 100% about getting their families into a safe place. They tried to comply with the laws, they never defied the ICE agents or the detention facility workers. They simply wanted to be granted asylum or resident status and to unite their families.

A grandmother learns she will be returned to her home country in Immigration Nation

Families were separated on purpose. People such as the grandmother above were held in detention centers for months even though they had done everything legally to gain entrance. Cases were delayed. People were retained for no reason when they could have been waiting for a hearing at home.

An activist at a protest against ICE in Immigration Nation

In addition to the ICE point of view and the immigrant point of view, the documentary also looks at activists who fight against ICE or who tried to get immigrant construction workers paid by their corrupt bosses. There were volunteers of all sorts who helped with food and housing, with legal issues, and with water supplies in the desert.

It’s a grim series to watch. It made me angry and very sad. Some of the ICE agents freely admitted that it’s about filling beds in for-profit detention centers. It’s not about people – it’s just a numbers game. They were also free to admit, even brag, about deterrence policies that separate families.

I don’t want to pin the immigration situation on Trump completely. Many administrations have contributed to the problem. But what the Trump administration has done is take the existing laws and carry them to extremes of cruelty, obstruction, and excess. The Trump policies are an inhumane horror.

There are many things wrong and broken about immigration laws and policies in the U.S. Perhaps this series will bring the issue back to the forefront of people’s minds as we struggle through a socially distant election cycle.

There’s no mention of COVID-19. Filming ended before it hit. I worry about all the people crammed together in detention centers, the children held separate from their parents, the 60,000 people just across the border in Mexico living in tents waiting for a turn to talk to an immigration official.

The series was directed by Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz. The footage was shot from 2017 to 2020. Legal threats from ICE were mounted to try to delay the release of the series until after the November election. I’m glad that didn’t work and voters get to see this series now.

Have a look at the trailer.

Have you seen this series? What did you think of it?

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