'Immigration Nation': ICE Tried to Stop Its Airing on Netflix — 'The Moment We Showed the First Cut, Everything Changed'

Netflix has a new documentary out, Immigration Nation, but it almost didn’t make it to the small-screen. The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency did not like how they were portrayed in the final product and fought hard to stop it from dropping on Netflix.

Is ‘Immigration Nation’ on Netflix real? 

Yes, the new Netflix documentary, Immigration Nation, is full of real-life footage filmed from 2017 to 2020 inside the ICE operation. The series portrays the agency’s actions during President Donald Trump’s administration, with Immigration’s ever-changing policies. 

Filmmaker Shaul Schwarz gained access to the ICE agencies because of a previous story he did with Homeland Security Investigations in 2010-2011. Once Schwarz and his co-director Christina Clusiau’s pitch to the agency was approved, they could film inside the operations and follow agents’ daily lives. 

The documentary follows several ICE agents and supervisors, along with various Immigrants. Throughout the series, viewers see the tough road Immigrants have — both those trying to get into the country and those who are forced to leave. 

What happened when the filmmakers let ICE preview ‘Immigration Nation’?

Schwarz and Clusiau had an excellent working relationship with ICE’s operations for the first two and a half years of filming. However, once the agency’s spokespeople began reviewing the show’s final cuts, things took a turn. 

“The moment we showed the first cut, everything changed,” Schwarz told Vanity Fair. “The tone completely shifted. First, they were really angry and asked for more time to review it. And then they would ask for substantial changes.”

The filmmakers admit that the last months of production were challenging.

“[The spokespersons were] recognizing some of our First Amendment rights, but in other places just throwing a lot of legal stuff that, quite frankly, made very little sense, and would not stick. And when that was kind of refused or pushed back, the bullying intensified.”

The ICE agency was shocked to see so much of the Immigrant story told in the documentary

ICE officers and spokespeople were often present when the filmmakers talked to many immigrants. However, they were still shocked to see it play out on the screen. They even commented to the filmmakers about this fact after the review process.

“I’m not quoting him word for word,” Schwarz said. “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 filmmakers fought back, pointing out the pitch they all agreed on before filming began. 

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

Nonetheless, the filmmakers made the necessary adjustments and fought ones they didn’t agree upon. Immigration Nation is currently streaming on Netflix. 

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