‘Immigration Nation’ offers an alarming close-up view of ICE officers at work

Whether or not you’ve followed the extreme changes to US immigration policy under the Trump administration, the Netflix docu-series “Immigration Nation,” launched this week, may come as a shock, though not because of the policies themselves. Instead, the series captures the way Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents conduct themselves and carry out those policies on a more tactical, individual level, in candid and sometimes damning detail.

By embedding with ICE for 2½ years, filmmakers Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwartz captured ride-alongs, raids, and idle office chatter, along with intimate glimpses into the lives of undocumented immigrants and their families. That up-close access gave them the opportunity to reveal sickening contrasts, cutting between scenes of traumatized detainees, devastated families, and the bland interior of ICE field offices, where officers crack jokes while planning their next raid. The juxtaposition of those elements offers a wrenching look into the callousness and ambiguity present in the ways those laws are enforced.

And that’s the most likely explanation for why ICE tried to delay the series’ release until after the upcoming election. On camera and on the record — often with faces and full names on display — ICE agents demonstrate the ways that creating a climate of fear becomes “another day at the office.”

At the same time, agents look to the cameras as an opportunity to humanize themselves. Some describe pangs of conflict that arise when they separate parents and kids. Others argue that they’re fulfilling a necessary responsibility, or that they need the paycheck. Most fall back on the idea that they’ve sworn to uphold the law, no matter how much it changes or what it entails, even when it means putting their own morals aside.

But that “just doing my job” logic falls apart during footage that shows ICE in action. In one scene, agents connive to get inside an apartment without producing a warrant, even when the resident asks for one.

By Karen Muller for The Boston Globe
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