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ICE Immigration Agent, Photo: Flickr

ICE Immigration Agent, Photo: Flickr

Immigration Nation gives a damning overview of America’s cruel immigration system and the power of the American State, writes Lucy Nichols

Netflix’s Immigration Nation is a six-part docuseries that examines the impacts of America’s cruel immigration laws on the many thousands of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers who try to navigate them.

The series gives you a clear, coherent overview of the immigration system in the US. It is equal parts infuriating and heart-breaking. One scene will show a family ripped apart by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents: the next will show the same agents laughing at a migrant who refused to let them take his fingerprint.

Each episode explores a different aspect of the immigration system in the US; the first sees camera crews shadowing ICE agents as they – quite literally – pick people up off the street and condemn them to deportation. Before 2016, only migrants who had committed serious crimes were targeted for deportation. Trump has changed this law; if you are in the US without papers and you commit a crime, however minor, you will at some point be the target of an ICE raid.

Even more cruel is that ICE will also pick up what they call ‘collateral damage’; this is anyone they happen to stumble across as they are trying to track down a specific target, regardless of whether they have ever committed a crime in the US. They even have unofficial quotas for the amount of ‘collateral damage’ they bring in after a raid, meaning that in the USA you could be picked up by ICE at almost any point.

This is an effort by the Trump administration to instil fear in America’s Latino communities: an effort that is working. We are told by an interviewee whose father has just been deported that she is afraid to leave the house in case she ends up with a similar fate.

Another episode chronicles the story of Charlotte, North Carolina. This town in the south of the state votes out a Sheriff who had been collaborating with ICE. He is replaced by Gerry L. McFadden, who vows to protect the migrant population of his town. In response to this, ICE effectively declares war on the town and its Sheriff. Despite the furious objections of local government and the people, ICE agents terrorise the migrant population and anyone who dares to stand up for them.

The series completely dispels any illusion that ICE is specifically in place to stop ‘rapists’ and ‘drug dealers’ from sneaking across the border in the dead of night. We are shown that even those who try to enter the US ‘the right way’ quickly become victims of a system set up to fail them.

Trumpian attempts to frame ICE agents as the sole defenders of a sovereign USA are proven totally wrong as the series focuses on the story of Berta, a 63-year-old grandmother from Mexico.

Berta fled Mexico after her teenage granddaughter was threatened with rape and murder by a gang. She presented herself and her granddaughter as asylum seekers at the US border in El Paso. Custom agents let her granddaughter into the US, but Berta was detained for well over a year while her case was deliberated. When questioned why Berta wasn’t being allowed into the country, the ICE agent in charge of her case argued that the 63-year-old was likely a threat to Americans.

The very last episode is perhaps the hardest to watch, demonstrating most clearly the human cost of Trump’s promise to ‘Build the Wall’. We are transported to the Southern border of the USA.

Here, a local coroner explains that the bodies of many hundreds of people are found in this vast desert, and how very often these bodies are reduced to just bones by vultures and coyotes. Often it will take years for the authorities to identify a body, and families will spend years not knowing what happened to a loved one.

The series then makes a brief attempt to pin the failures of the US state on the brutal

human traffickers that charge thousands to smuggle desperate people across the border. Of course, this is not a very believable transgression and is ultimately unsuccessful. It is clear throughout the series that the biggest evil present is the federal government, and the inhumane ICE agents who work for it. As one veteran agent muses;

‘You get paid to hunt, and there’s nothing more challenging than hunting the human species’

Immigration Nation is totally damning, and can only dismiss any faith the viewer has in the American state. In addition to accounting the many human rights abuses that take place along the US border with Mexico, it documents the horrific treatment of migrants all over the country at the hands of ICE.

Harsh immigration laws under Clinton, Bush and Obama have been made far crueller under the current president. Trump’s blatant racism has legitimised the dehumanisation of Latinos, Africans and Muslims who want to live and work in the USA.

Watching this series, you realise just how powerful the American state is; how it will ignore local government and elected officials to carry on with its goal of purging the country of ‘illegal aliens’. But it is also obvious that this system is not sustainable. By-and-large, the American people do not support it.

The series therefore documents a system close to breaking point. With the context of the huge Black Lives Matter movement, the election of various progressive (dare I say socialist) candidates to government and growing calls to abolish ICE, you are left wondering how much longer American neoliberalism can carry on for. 

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