“Fear always exists here.”
It takes practically no time at all for viewers to realize that Immigration Nation, Netflix’s new docu-series from directors Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz, is an indisputable, point-blank attack on the Trump-era “zero-tolerance” policy centered on immigration and border control. It takes only a few seconds longer for them to question who within the layered government thought cooperating with this film crew was a good idea?
The series, comprised of six episodes, dissects and analyzes the Trump-era policies, traveling from the streets and hallways of New York City to the lonely, barren desert of Mexico. Along the way, the directors tackle Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids and arrests, the separation of families, asylum seekers, and the uphill climb many immigrants face in their effort to obtain legal residency.
The series, left-leaning in both theory and execution, is unapologetically painful to watch. The directors bring emotion and heart into the formula, giving families a voice as they long for better treatment by the government and its partnering agencies. Many will immediately connect with the stories, either by personal experience or ideology allegiance. Those who don’t won’t see anything to sway their opinion as Immigration Nation paints with broad strokes, ultimately giving specific (though not detailed) examples of the stories that have flooded the news for several years. The series rarely offers up anything “new” that could sway a potential voter come November, even if the stories presented are equally frustrating and harrowing.
The six episodes, collectively encompassing several angles of the highly controversial laws that, though incredibly enhanced under President Donald Trump, have been around for decades, are disconnected regarding character and storyline. Though there is the occasional crossover of person, each segment is thematically independent, singularly dialing in on a specific issue and offering viewers a fully encompassing look before segwaying onto other delicate conversation topics.
If I am honest, the approach is a frustrating reality as Clusiau and Schwarz work to present complicated, layered, and highly controversial subject matter in a formulaic style that can speak to the ordinary individual. The long-form approach does just enough to differentiate it from the news; however, unlike the comparable Dateline, 20/20, and 60 Minutes, Immigration Nation is far too heavy and emotionally triggered to be completed in an afternoon binge.
Unlike most of Netflix’s programming, the thoughts and visuals displayed throughout this series are intense, heart-wrenching, and, at times, traumatic. As a result, Immigration Nation is best when absorbed in small doses, allowing for adequate absorption and reflection. Contrary to the makeup of many similarly themed documentaries, this one doesn’t allow you to progress with your life with little to no real effect. In dark contrast, this series will undoubtedly stay with you. For better or worse, it is a representation of the world we are currently living in. And though many of us don’t see the immediate ramifications, the show puts a name and face on the struggles and hardships that immigrants are currently facing, reminding many of the privileges they live daily.
*This series is streaming globally on Netflix. All six episodes were reviewed.