‘Immigration Nation’ on Netflix: How Did the Filmmakers Get Into ICE Operations?

Netflix dropped a new documentary, Immigration Nation, on Aug. 3, 2020. The six-episode miniseries made headlines even before its release because the filmmakers were faced with legal threats. Immigration Nation sat down with many undocumented immigrants to follow their stories. 

Netflix 'Immigration Nation'
‘Immigration Nation’ Episode 1 | NETFLIX © 2020

Is ‘Immigration Nation’ on Netflix real? 

The new Netflix documentary, Immigration Nation, is full of real-life footage from 2017 to 2020 of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. The series depicts the agency’s actions during President Donald Trump’s administration. 

Filmmakers Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau filmed inside actual ICE agencies and agents working in New York City, Charlotte, North Carolina, and outside Tucson, Arizona. They followed officers as they chained and handcuffed immigrants who were about to be deported. The series included interviews with administrators and supervisors as they dealt with the ever-changing policies. 

It also delves into the life of real individuals, including immigrants separated from small children as they sob while wrapped in chains. The series shows what happens when ICE agents encounter “collaterals” when they find their “target.” The agents used the term “collaterals” to refer to undocumented immigrants who were brought into custody, although they were not the individuals the officers sought to find. 

‘Immigration Nation’ on Netflix: How did filmmakers get into ICE agencies?

Filmmaker Shaul Schwarz explained that they gained access to the ICE agencies and operations because of a previous story the director did with Homeland Security Investigations in 2010-2011. He had a relationship with a spokesperson there, and the individual agreed after President Trump took office. However, the documentary wasn’t what the spokesperson had in mind. 

“There was a moment where we spoke to one of the spokesmen after the review process,” Schwarz told Vanity Fair. “And he says—I’m not quoting him word for word, but his notion was, ‘I can’t believe you’re telling so much of the immigrant story. We thought it was really a show about ICE.’

The director pointed out that the filmmakers described their intentions in their pitch. 

'Immigration Nation' on Netflix
‘Immigration Nation’ Episode 3 | NETFLIX © 2020

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“I said to him, ‘Immigration and Customs Enforcement is literally the name of the agency! If you look at the pitch we wrote, it was on the shift during the Trump era.’ It was, like, in the synopsis of the first paragraph.”

He also noted that the spokesperson did not look into the filmmakers’ previous documentaries. 

“Maybe they were anticipating some kind of rah-rah kinda cop show,” Schwarz continued. “Which doesn’t make sense, because they should have known our prior work and our line of work.”

‘Immigration Nation’ on Netflix was challenging to produce in ‘so many ways’

The Immigration policies changed so often during the three years of the documentary that the film was tough to produce. 

“You had to be very nimble and quick to jump, to be willing to—you know, tomorrow morning, get on a flight to go to El Paso because Berta [an El Salvadorean grandmother seeking asylum, featured in the docuseries] is going to be deported,” Schwarz told the outlet.

The filmmakers wanted to use the access they had to talk to immigrants within the system. However, the difficulty came when they tried to follow that person’s story throughout the three years. The agents moved around the individuals so frequently; it became challenging to keep up. 

However, the directors give an inside look at the genuine hardships of the ICE agents and the Immigrants involved. Immigration Nation is currently streaming on Netflix.