At first, I wasn’t sure I could finish “Immigration Nation.” The first episode focuses heavily on ICE process, which, no matter how you feel politically, is built on layers of subterfuge and confusion. We are embedded with officers as they don’t show I.D., talk their way into apartments under the guise of being helpful, exploit language barriers, and discuss the concept of “collaterals,” people they just happen to find while they’re serving warrants on others (warrants they don’t have to actually show, by the way, just claim to have). The move from seeking out immigrants with criminal backgrounds or who have committed crimes here in the States switched to grabbing all immigrants under Trump, including the ones designated “non-crim” (non-criminal). And so men and women who have lived here for years were rounded up with knocks on the door. Filmmakers Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau make an effort to humanize some of the officers here, and you can see glimpses of compassion and confusion on their faces, although they’re careful not to present too sympathetic a portrait of people just following orders. The series focuses on the immigrant families torn apart more than those doing the tearing.
The smartest thing about “Immigration Nation” is its episodic focus. Schwarz and Clusiau break out from that premiere and devote each hour to a different aspect of the immigration nightmare. So the third episode centers on the antithetical concept of deported veterans. Thousands of men and women have fought for the United States in foreign wars only to then be deported. Again, I would like to think that this is a rare apolitical issue and that both sides would agree that those who have been willing to die for this country shouldn’t be forced to leave it, but the fact that this remains a reality at all is only one of many disturbing aspects of this series. Trump and his cronies like to dehumanize immigrants as wannabe criminals, but don’t seem to care about who else gets caught in that inaccurate net. Consider the Salvadoran police officer who used to call in tips about the drug trade to the NYPD before he had to flee his country for his safety. He was sent right back to an almost certain death at the hands of the cartel he had betrayed to help the country essentially damning him with deportation. No one can adequately explain why that is just.
“Immigration Nation” is full of such stories. There’s the grandmother who fled Mexico with her granddaughter after a drug lord tried to kidnap the girl and make her his child bride. The granddaughter was allowed to stay. The asylum-seeking grandmother who raised her was held in a detention center for a year and a half and deported. Any system that does that is broken. And what’s so smart about “Immigration Nation” is how Schwarz and Clusiau take each of the talking points of the current (and some of the former) administration and reveal their blinding inaccuracy to capture the entire immigration experience. For example, episode five centers on the myth of doing it “The Right Way,” while asylum-seeking people are being forced into captivity and deportation. There is no right way anymore.