Immigration Nation – a review

Written by Zoya Makkar, LSSNCA Volunteer Blogger

Immigration Nation aired in 2020 as a Netflix docuseries. The filmmakers spent nearly three years working on the film and were granted exclusive access to Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and operations. However, this begs the question, why would ICE allow an international platform such as Netflix, to capture the devastations that go on behind the scenes?

The short answer? To prevent the prospect of undocumented immigration. ICE wants the world to know that the ‘American Dream’ doesn’t exist for undocumented immigrants. To quote ICE Acting Director Tom Homan, “If you’re in this country illegally, you should be uncomfortable. You should look over your shoulder. You need to be worried. There is no safe haven here.”

However ICE’s vision fell short. After viewing the final cut, ICE intimidated the film-makers to delay the release date. When the two denied, they were even threatened with lawsuits from the federal government along with attempts to censor the docuseries.

The plan didn’t work, and from watching the six-hour series, it’s clear why the agency wanted to prevent the public from seeing what really goes on inside one of the most controversial government institutions. 

The pilot episode begins with ICE agents knocking on the doors of various New York households. At the start of each visit the agents pretend to be police officers – ICE officers are not allowed to force residents to open their doors, police however, can. Once a family member opens the door through the officer’s manipulation, the agents are allowed to enter (unwarranted) and search for any undocumented adults.

After the agents commandeer adults from their crying spouses and young children, they celebrate as they have just “caught another one,” — a common phrase used by the officers. It becomes evident that deportation, to some officers, is nothing more than a game.

At the end of each week, the number of deported individuals is tallied and announced. High numbers such as those nearing the hundreds are inevitably followed with celebrations such as cheering and drinking. ICE officers even say “good game” to credit the faculty’s so-called achievement.

The ‘no room for emotion’ nature of this organization is evident throughout the whole series. In fact, the following dialogue is what a deportation officer encountered while in a donut shop.

Deportation officer: “I’ll take a dozen donuts”

Worker: “You don’t remember me?”

Deportation officer: “No, where would I know you from?”

Worker: “You deported my mom.”

Deportation officer: “Oh, I’m sorry. When was that?”

Worker: “Last week.”

Originally, deportation numbers were not so towering. Only the immigrants with prior serious criminal convictions were arrested. However, on President Trump’s first day in office, he signed off on a policy to remove all undocumented peoples and mandated that 10,000 deportation officers would be hired. In fact, since Trump took office, ICE facilities have more than doubled in detainees.

As the 2020 election day approaches, it is imperative that the policies of both candidates are understood. Democratic candidate Joe Biden pledges to reinstate the DACA program which would expand opportunities for DREAMers — adults who migrated to the US as children. Along with this, to garner the support of the Latinx community, Biden plans to surge humanitarian resources at the border, reform the asylum seeker system and improve upon the Temporary Protected Status for those who have fled a country.

As for President Trump’s second term, he will continue to accelerate the path for immigrants to receive their green card. Under his administration, roughly 850,000 immigrants have been naturalized and are living in the US as citizens — the most in 5 years.

Although the precedent may be changing, as long as ICE officers continue repeating their mantra – “I’m just doing my job” – they perpetuate their egregious role as a cog in a wheel. Ultimately, Immigration Nation reinforces hopelessness for immigrants seeking documentation. The hostility of ICE reinforces that notion that the American Dream is really the disguise for the American Nightmare.


*This blog has been written by a volunteer based on her perspective having watched Immigration Nation. To learn how you can help and support refugees and immigrants in the Washington DC Metro Area, visit LSSNCA.org.

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