Immigration Nation

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Immigration Nation TV Poster Image
Damning documentary series puts ICE under the microscope.

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Positive Messages

Courage and perseverance are demonstrated strongly by stories that emphasize lengths people will go to in order to secure life, liberty, and happiness, even though their circumstances are often dire. Many immigrants, some ICE agents show integrity by doing what they think is right rather than what's customary. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

ICE agents are a mixed bag; some seem almost gleeful about arresting immigrants, seem to view job as exciting game; others attempt to be kind to detainees; others hate the new policies, hope they will change, yet still follow orders. Many interviewees have touching things to say about how much they love America, how they want to work hard and be a success here, as well as terrible stories about being ripped from their lives and families. Authority figures can be scary, like ICE officials who use harsh voices, carry guns, wear uniforms, use tricks to get information and access to private homes. Those making this series found a diverse group of people to interview who have had many different experiences. 


Interviewees tell harrowing stories about how they were separated from children, crossing borders, making fraught choices that they hope are the best for their families. Many cry as they talk about their children. We see visuals of children held in terrible conditions, hear them crying. Some interviewees fear violence or even death if they return to their home country. ICE agents carry guns and wear uniforms; they use intimidation and tricks to get people to do what they say. 


Language includes "s--t," "f--k," "f--king." 

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What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Immigration Nation is a powerful and damning documentary series that chronicles the rise of ICE under the Trump administration and catalogs some of the terror and pain the new ICE policies have wreaked on the lives of people living in the United States without legal immigration status. Perhaps the most disturbing moments of the series are visuals of kids living in terrible conditions in ICE facilities, and footage filmed with ICE agents on missions to round up immigrants, which includes moments in which detainees' family members scream ("That's my dad!") and cling to their parents, sobbing. Interviewees tell harrowing stories about crossing borders and about being separated from family members; they frequently cry as they talk. Some interviewees fear violence or death if they return to their home country. ICE agents carry guns and wear uniforms; they use intimidation and tricky methods to get people to do what they say. Some are critical of the new policies; others resigned; still others seem excited to seize more power and seem to view the arrest of immigrants as a kind of game. Language includes "s--t" and "f--k." Courage and perseverance are demonstrated strongly by stories that emphasize the lengths to which people are willing to go to make better lives for their families. The series exposes some of the systemic reasons immigrants come to America, as well as the integrity they must show in order to survive. Viewers will come away from this series having learned much about American immigration policies, who they affect, and how. 

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What's the story?

Documentary series IMMIGRATION NATION investigates the ramp-up of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under President Trump, using news footage, taped interviews with ICE agents and the immigrants they detain, and footage taped while accompanying ICE on arrests and inside ICE offices to tell the story of ICE's rise to prominence and how it affects those who are apprehended by the agency. 

Is it any good?

Powerful and painful, this documentary digs into the backstory of the Trump administration's massive ICE expansion, the agents on the job, and the immigrants they apprehend, with damning results. The contrast between the agents, who range from swaggering and gleeful to resigned and faintly critical, and the immigrants they bust is terrible enough. Detainees are interviewed in stark talking-head style, relating the stories of how they made their way to the United States, the lives they've led here, and the anguish they feel at being separated from their families and torn from their lives. Tears are common as detainees describe what their kids are like, and how they screamed to stay with their parents as agents forced them apart (a scenario that we learn is a new one, as pre-Trump families were kept together if at all possible, and only separated for up to 72 hours). 

Meanwhile, many of the ICE agents seem to view their job as something akin to a video game. There's a lot of excited talk about "ops" and intense competition to bring in the most "tangos" (those residing in the United States without legal immigration status, in ICE parlance). It is difficult to watch as ICE agents are instructed to identify themselves as "police" and use a combination of tricks and threats to get people to open their doors to them, and then demand to see ID for everyone in the house, looking to sweep up what's called "collaterals": people who aren't in any trouble with the law, but aren't legal residents, either. That's new, too, this arresting and deporting of "collaterals," and that's just the beginning of the horrible things Immigration Nation uncovers. It's not an easy watch, but it sure does feel like an important one. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why Immigration Nation was made. Is it intended to inspire change? To document a cultural phenomenon or a period of American history? What do you think were the intentions of those who made this show? 

  • Television and social critics talk about the importance of representation, that people see stories they relate to on-screen and in other media. Does Immigration Nation give representation to people and stories you haven't seen before? Is that important? Why or why not? 

  • Families can talk about how Immigration Nation's interviewees show courageintegrity, and perseverance. Why do you think these are important character strengths

TV details

  • Premiere date: August 3, 2020
  • Network: Netflix
  • Genre: Reality TV
  • TV rating: TV-MA
  • Available on: Streaming
  • Last updated: August 20, 2020

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