“Given just how secretive ICE is, Clusiau and Schwarz pulled off a small miracle by using their pre-existing relationship with an ICE spokesperson to embed themselves in the agency just when President Donald Trump assumed office. For the next three years, they followed ICE around the country, from New York to Texas to Arizona, watching agents conduct raids, debate enforcement tactics, and plot media strategy while blithely upending—and ending—lives.
The documentary, whose more incriminatory parts the Trump administration tried to suppress, opens with a pre-dawn ICE raid on undocumented immigrants in New York. The raid marks the first day of the weeklong Operation Keep Safe—whose actual purpose, contrary to its name, was to instill fear. One ICE agent gushes as he gets ready for action: “I love my job.” A Hispanic agent, on the first day of his job, is giddy: “It’s Christmas for us.” Another exults that the change of administration means “it’s a different world now” where the “floodgates have opened.”
But who exactly is getting sucked in? Not folks with serious criminal histories. ICE’s own records show that only 13 of the 225 people arrested during that operation had serious crimes on their record. The vast majority of those arrested either had committed minor misdemeanors, such as DUIs, or were that unfortunate breed called “collaterals.”
Collaterals are undocumented people who have committed only visa violations—akin to speeding in a rational world—but happened to be in the vicinity when ICE came looking for someone else. If any agent has qualms about going after them, those reservations dissolve as the pressure of filling arrest quotas kicks in. ICE agent Brian’s experience makes this abundantly clear. Just when he was expressing his distaste for the practice, he got a call from his supervisor, who tells him “I don’t care what you do” just “get me two” arrests.”
“what’s jaw-dropping is to watch ICE agents openly bend and break the rule of law in the name of…enforcing the rule of law.”
“By law, ICE agents can’t enter and arrest until they are asked in. So how did they obtain an invitation? By lying and identifying themselves as police. If someone protested on seeing who they really were, the reaction essentially was “Tricked ya!”. The agents then calmly go about the grim business of handcuffing dazed fathers (and sometimes moms) while ignoring the pleas of their shell-shocked spouses and wailing children.”
“ICE and its sister agencies terrorize immigrants not just through its enforcement squads and detention camps, but by weaponizing its bureaucracy.
In recent days, reports have surfaced that immigration authorities—in an administration allegedly dedicated to slashing red tape—have quietly adopted a no-blanks policy that rejects visa applications if any part of a form is left unfilled. If someone does not have a middle name and skips that line, their petition gets thrown out. Ditto if they leave out the apartment number because they live in a house. The strategy is to make the process so hard for people who are trying to do it by the book that they abandon their quest to live in the United States.”
“One of the most heart-wrenching stories in Immigration Nation shows how the immigration bureaucracy chews up and spits out Carlos Perez. As a police officer in El Salvador, he offered intel on Salvadoran gangs to the New York Police Department. When the gangs found out, he and his wife fled, at one point swimming across a river with their two toddlers strapped to their backs. The precise details are a bit fuzzy, but it seems Perez sought asylum and was released into the country with work authorization, which he dutifully renewed on a regular basis. But his lawyer forgot to file a formal petition—something that occasionally happens because these migrants are too poor to buy quality representation and don’t have the language skills to navigate the byzantine system themselves. Many years later, when ICE realized this, it took Perez into custody. And after some months, ignoring his pleas that he’ll be killed if he returns home, sends him packing back. The fact that he had risked his life to help American law enforcement counted for nothing against his trivial lapse in paperwork.
At one point, we see him calling his family from a detention camp prior to deportation. He poignantly gives his son, a teenager who has to prematurely step into his dad’s shoes, instructions on making car payments and other such business. The ICE supervisor, who had total discretion over Perez’s fate, admits that Perez was trying to play by the rules. But in the end, he says, he gets “an inherent kind of satisfaction—I won’t say ‘joy’—in removing people who don’t belong in the country regardless of public sentiment.”
After Perez’s deportation, his son drops out of school, cashes in his meager savings, and tries to support the family. “I’ve lost all faith in the U.S. government,” he mourns.”
“And then there is the 63-year-old Guatemalan woman—petite, frail, terrified, and the furthest thing from a threat to the United States—who fled her country with her 12-year-old granddaughter. According the grandmother, an MS-13 gang member took a fancy to the preteen and demanded that grandma let him marry her or he’d kill them both. The two traveled for 10 days by land to reach the U.S. border and immediately turned themselves in at a port of entry, exactly as legally required. The granddaughter was released from detention after two months to join her mom, who lives in the U.S. The grandmother, however, was held in detention for 17 months—illegally, her lawyer claims, since she met the test for being released into the country while her asylum petition was considered. But she was a pawn in the Trump administration’s deterrence game, so the rules didn’t matter.
Her petition was eventually rejected. Before her lawyer could file an emergency appeal—as is perfectly in keeping with the rules—she was deported in the dead of the night. She wasn’t even allowed a phone call to bid her granddaughter good-bye.”
“Story after story in Immigration Nation shows how the government systematically games and breaks the rules to keep immigrants out. Yet one ICE agent smugly tells unauthorized immigrants, as he leads them to the bridge back to Mexico, to “try to do it the right way” next time, because, the right way is “always the best way.” He seems oblivious to the fact that even before Trump arrived on the scene and gutted legal immigration, few options to come in the “right way” existed for low-skilled migrants: Every administration since President Lyndon Johnson has been slamming doors in their faces.”