- Movie Rating -

Immigration Nation (2020)

| August 3, 2020

If you even slightly lean to the right on your politics, then no one would blame you if you dismissed Netflix six-part documentary series Immigration Nation as a one-sided bleeding-heart screed aimed at revealing deported immigrants as victims and putting horns on the Forty-Fifth President of the United States.  You wouldn’t be entirely wrong.  But there’s more to it than that.  I mean . . . a LOT more.

Immigration Nation is a no-holds-barred attempt to put a face on the immigration issue as it has existed since Donald Trump took office and largely offers the opinion that those in favor of his sweeping ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy turn a blind eye to the fact that immigrants are human beings no matter how much one tries to dehumanize them or to simplify their circumstances.  They did the wrong thing, yes, but the radical and hysterical response from the Trump administration turned a broken system into a contradictory hornet’s nest of detainment and confining policy that separated families and unfairly imprisoned individuals desperate for a chance at a decent life.

Producers Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwartz understand clearly that the United States immigration problem didn’t start with Donald Trump but they understand that his administration went to great lengths to exacerbate the problem.  The movie deals with this head-on, but the wider agenda here is to tell stories that are unique, personal, and heartbreaking.  What is special about their approach is that it tries to pull away from the labeling of “those people” and tries to find the story within the story.

Each episode tries to address one facet of the problem individually so that by the end we feel that all of our questions have been answered.  Whether or not you want to remain for all six episodes really depends on your response to the first, which explores the tactics of ICE – The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – and how it functioned before and after Trump’s policy was put into place.  In previous administrations, we’re told, ICE went after illegal immigrants wanted for serious crimes, but when the ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy came into play, ICE was given a free-hand to arrest and detain anyone who was in the United States illegally. 

Acting now without any real sense of organization, we see ICE agents pounding on the doors of immigrants without warrants and then carting them away.  The rapid nature of these arrests is confusing and heartbreaking even to those whose job it is to bring those individuals in.  The producers of Immigration Nation walk a very fine line between humanizing the ICE agents and showing them justifying their jobs as “Well, they’re breaking the law.  What can I do?  It’s my job.”

The second episode is where things get personal.  We understand fully that Trump’s ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy was a knee-jerk reaction to the problem without a single consideration as to the devastation that this would have on parents and their children.  Most devastated are the single parents who find themselves locked away in a detention center while their children are sent off to foster care without any confidence that they would ever be reunited.

Episode three may be the most contradictory in terms of its subject matter, dealing with several deported veterans who served the United States military.  They joined, put themselves on the line in America’s foreign wars only to then find themselves the subject of deportation and humiliation.  And this isn’t just a handful of individuals.  We learn that these people number in the thousands.  From a political standpoint this may be the most enraging chapter because it goes to prove that Donald Trump’s knee-jerk policy fell on the heads of people who served this country and put themselves on the line for it.

Episode Four could have been a documentary all its own, dealing  with how American construction crews hire illegal immigrants and then not only refuse to pay them but threaten to turn them in if they complain too much.

Episode Five, called “The Right Way”, is the one that I was the most eager to get to.  I’ve heard the excuse about The Right Way even from those closest to me and this episode gets behind the argument.  The Right Way is not as easy as it sounds.  The rules for immigration are so vast, so twisted, so unfair and so contradictory that a person could sit in a detention center (which is a prison, no matter how ICE agents try to rebrand it) for years and years and years and never see their family.

The most telling moment comes when a deported man in a detention center talks about his plight with a very defensive ICE agent, arguing that because of the system of deportation, he may not see his family for 10 years.  “Could you be away from your family for ten years?” the man quietly asks.  The apathetic smile on the agent’s face tells the whole story.  Those arguments make this series what it is and so do their stories.  Despite claims by Trump and his cronies that Mexicans are blood-thirsty criminals who are here to rape and pillage, there are a thousand stories that reveal the truth and, in this episode, comes one of the most heartbreaking.  A grandmother who ran from Mexico into The United States with her granddaughter after a drug kingpin made a failed attempt to kidnap the girl to make her a child bride.  Under asylum, the granddaughter was allowed to stay in the U.S. but the grandmother was held in detention for a year and a half before being deported.  This was done under the broken system of immigration rules.  This is wrong.  It is inhuman.  It is the cold nature of this world in which the rules are more important than the people caught up on them.  And it counteracts the cold-hearted claims by ICE agents that they are simply doing their jobs.

What Clusiau and Schwartz have created here is full-blooded reporting of one of the most serious and dismissed story of our recent times.  Immigration Nation is an emotional experience (at six hours it has to be) and so binging is not really recommended even to those who are already infuriated by the situation.  It forces us to look at the people who are affected, who are kept away from their families.  Those who fled to American with the hope of a better life and then got mired in a system of confinement that kept them from living any kind of real life – a system that slapped a label on their heads as “Those people.”

The producers of Immigration Nation don’t simply look at the issue from an archival point of view.  They move around the country trying to find witnesses, victims, those immigrants who have been affected and those in charge of defending this busted and broken system.  It can be hoped that the keepers next administration will take a look at this remarkable film, scrap the whole immigration policy and rebuild it from a humanitarian point of view.

Now streaming on Netflix

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2020) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized