REVIEW: Immigration Nation


Nelvin C. Cepeda Tribune Content Agency

William Becker, Staff Writer

While most reviews have to more-or-less avoid overt politics and human rights discussions, to understand “Immigration Nation,” you have to understand the climate in the United States.  

“I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall,” Donald Trump said during his speech to announce he would be running for president back in 2015. To say the administration has been unaccepting of immigrants, particularly from Mexico, would be the understatement of the century. 

“The wall” has been a theme of Donald J. Trump’s presidency since before he was even elected. While the wall is a central scapegoat in the discussion of the Trump administration’s feelings about illegal immigration, Trump has been rather insistent on separating families, criticizing “anchor babies” and increasing immigration enforcement. A lot of these families who are deported are put into detention camps (Wikipedia reports there are over 950 in the United States). 
“Immigration Nation” focuses quite specifically on illegal immigrants, their families, and officers of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (also known as ICE.) It’s personal and you can’t help but find a lot of care and interest in the stories presented, particularly from that of the immigrants and the people directly impacted by immigration policies in the United States.  

Interestingly enough, one of the coolest things that the documentary does is not have a single narrator. The filmmakers offer shots of immigrants and ICE officials simply talking to the camera, spliced in with videos of protests, detention facilities and various arrests made by officials. The documentary simply shows the good and the bad, without overtly pointing out who is who, allowing anyone watching to form their own conclusions.  

“If you’re in this country illegally, you should be uncomfortable. You should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried,” Tom Homan, director of ICE says at one point in the series, making it astoundingly clear the position of ICE officials on illegal immigrants. There’s a lot of language about how illegal immigrants are committing crimes, and like any other criminal, they need to be punished.  

Some ICE officials don’t seem so confident about the viewpoint they’re supporting, often stating that they’re just following orders and doing what they’re told. That being said, the series puts an obvious focus on the divorce between the “orders” and the empathetic, emotional side of the job. In a key moment from the first episode, a female worker actually says that she has to remove her emotional perspective when she is working, making the job a lot easier. 

Regardless of the opinions of ICE officials, the six-hour documentary is a harrowing look into how modern immigration policies can deeply abuse illegal immigrants and their families. Just as soon as the viewer is exposed to ICE officials giving their opinions about their jobs, there are grown immigrant men who are crying on camera about having lost their children and families. Perhaps I’m a particularly empathetic person, but it’s hard to watch the interviews without tearing up. Going from an ICE officer sheepishly explaining that they need to follow orders and do their jobs, to these images of men in tears, women screaming for their fathers and children, and even the sounds of children crying from behind bars, it’s hard to understand how people think the handling of immigrants in this country is humane.  

There’s an interesting moment with Wolf Blitzer and Tom Homan, where he explicitly asks him if he thinks the policies are humane. He struggles to answer, simply stating that these policies are the law and not answering if they are humane or not. This is particularly illustrative of the disconnect between ICE and the more emotional nuances of their policies.  

Regardless of your opinion on ICE and modern immigration policies (which arguably started underneath Bill Clinton and Obama,) “Immigration Nation” is a must-watch for people on both sides of the fence. In ways that are very surprising, it’s a humanizing approach to the endless debate about immigration. To anyone who will be voting in the next election, it’s a very powerful and very important watch.