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By Kathryn Baron

Summary

In 2017, co-directors Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwartz began filming a six-part Netflix docuseries called Immigration Nation. The Trump Administration reportedly tried to block the use of some footage in the film as it takes on a very direct and overt portrait of the US immigration system. Time described it as “empathetic storytelling and bold investigative journalism.” Throughout the docuseries, there is an overwhelming presence of cognitive dissonance in which immigration officials perpetually carry a “just following orders” and “it’s not up to me” attitude. By presenting case studies of individuals, families, and asylum seekers, Clusiau and Schwartz envelope the heavy day to day of the US immigration system while ensuring the viewers are exposed to the cruelties and dissociation that also occurs daily. Some of the individuals in the docuseries are a father separated from his 3-year old son – and wants to know “where are the good Americans?” – migrants freezing to death in the desert on their journey, a grandmother and granddaughter who fled after MS-13 attempted to force the 12-year old granddaughter into marriage, and a Ugandan woman whose husband sent men to pour acid on her after they separated.

The docuseries opened with a case for a man to be deported and upon arrest, no warrant was presented to the family, but instead, his wife was told to just believe they had a warrant when asked but were not required to show her. While in the holding cell, officers were very condescending and took a cell-phone video in mockery of him. Throughout the docuseries, there were a plethora of micro-aggressions and jokes made among officers at immigrants’ expense. Signs on the walls read “never turn your back on a prisoner!!!!!!!!!!” In another case of “precision policing” – the specific way in which many ICE officers said they target and arrest individuals – there were many people inside of the man in question’s apartment who all were taken in as “collateral.” During the Trump Administration, privatized ICE detention centers flourished and nearly all personability was lost. One deportation officer recounted nonchalantly a story of him buying coffee and a donut from a young man who kept questioning if the officer remembered him. The officer had no idea who he was until the young man told him the officer had deported his mother just the week prior. The officer laughed this off during his storytelling and explained that he upholds an “onto the next” attitude in his work.

Lastly, Immigration Nation covered the deportation of veterans – made possible during the Clinton Administration – and “wage theft” – in which many employers refuse to pay undocumented immigrants for their work. Through these cases, Clusiau and Schwartz show how  persistent and systematic rejection wore down many immigrants and broke their spirits causing them to lose hope in the “American Dream.”

It was made abundantly clear that for some law enforcement, their job was viewed as a “manhunt” and this quality is what contributed to the thrill and satisfaction they sought when entering law enforcement. Particularly officers of the ICE Fugitive Operations branch – the deportation officers locating, arresting, and removing fugitive migrants – and Homeland Security Investigation – which pursues organized criminal activity like human, arms, and drug smuggling. When ICE was established in 2003, there were 8 units. Now, there are 129 and the Trump Administration has successfully weaponized the immigration system and more than doubled the number of arrests. When asked if it is humane, Thomas Homan – former Acting Director of ICE – replied with “I think it is the law” while averting eye contact and fidgeting for a response.  The docuseries focuses in large part on the Trump Administration but ensures the audience that Trump has exacerbated an existing issue. The acceleration the Trump Administration needed to carry out mass arrests and deportations were built upon the momentum set forth during the Bush Administration in the post-9/11 era that weaponized and instilled fear in the American public re foreigners. The system is discouraging by design as a conscious strategy of prevention-through-deterrence is employed in a dismissive and detached manner. Regardless of growing global opposition, the Trump Administration does not recoil and instead creates physical and legal barriers.

Resistance  Resources

  • The National Immigration Law Center: an organization that exclusively dedicates itself to defending and furthering the rights of low income immigrants and strives to educate decision makers on the impacts and effects of their policies on this overlooked part of the population.
  • Border Network for Human Rights: network to engage education, organization and participation of border communities to defend human rights and work towards a society where everyone is equal in rights and dignity.
  • The ACLU: a non-profit with a longstanding commitment to preserving and protecting the individual rights and liberties the Constitution and US laws guarantee all its citizens. You can also donate monthly to counter Trump’s attacks on people’s rights. Recently, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging the separation of families at the border.
  • Center for Disease Control: the CDC provides updated information surrounding COVID-19 and the US responses
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