Netflix’s new documentary Immigration Nation looks at the plight of immigrants under the Trump administration.
For the six-part series, filmmakers Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz entered into a contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, following them around as they knocked on doors looking for specific individuals but also picking up additional immigrants (called “collaterals”).
As well as this, they filmed inside ICE offices just steps away from holding cells.
Filming took place over the course of three years, and Clusiau and Schwarz say there were many dark and dangerous moments.
“Has it been a dark three years? Yes, definitely. Does it break your heart? More than I can ever tell you in words,” Schwarz told Variety.
He continued: “We can’t stop caring about this, that’s my opinion. We’re destroying so many lives, and it’s almost un-American. Our heritage is a nation of immigrants; we all — unless you’re a Native American — came here one way or another, and a lot of them came with papers but some didn’t.
“We came believing this country had some values, and I think it’s part of the beauty of the American dream really. That’s been challenged, and these people hurt. We are historically better than this.”
The filmmakers initially struggled to get their subjects on board, as many didn’t want to show their face on camera.
“We went out to California and nobody wanted to show their face because they felt they were so hated there,” Schwarz says of ICE as an example.
But the majority of the people profiled, Clusiau said: “felt that they felt there was an importance, for themselves and their community, to not continuously be in the shadows.”
“When people were tangled in the system, even in interviews, they actually wanted their story told — because, to some degree, when you’re already entangled you have a little bit less to lose and you’re a little bit more wanting to share your truth. Those that did speak, I salute them for their courage, because a lot of them were taking risk and are still taking risks,” Schwarz added.
In order to minimise risk and dangers, Clusiau and Schwarz blacked out the surnames of interviewees when chyrons appeared on screen.
As well as this, they would “separate themselves” from the ICE agents during home visits to make their subjects feel more comfortable.
Speaking of how they’d approach subjects, Schwarz said they’d first introduce themselves, saying: ‘We’re independent journalists. We’re not with [ICE]. May we come in? May we document?'” and if anyone said no, they respected that.
One of the hardest parts about filming the Netflix series was that policy was changing as they were filming.
Clusiau and Schwarz are therefore hoping for updates to be made to viewers on each case, and have “dared” US President Donald Trump to allow for this.
With “‘bring the boys back home’,” Schwarz said: “Biden has promised that, and we hope and dare Trump to promise that. The immigration system is broken and it has been so politicised that people just scream without thinking or listening or acknowledging the human toll. We wanted the viewers to understand that we should care more and there’s stuff we can agree on. We shouldn’t accept that the system destroys lives. We should change some things.”