ICE Agents Complain About Nazi Comparisons, Say They're Only Enforcing the Laws

A new Netflix docuseries that saw filmmakers gain "unprecedented" access to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency's operations under the Trump administration sees ICE agents open up about what it's like to be seen as "the bad guys."

For roughly three years, starting just after President Donald Trump took office, filmmakers Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau were given a stunning level of access to the U.S. Homeland Security department's immigration agencies, including ICE and the Border Patrol.

Schwarz and Clusiau followed federal officers and agents as they enforced some of the Trump administration's most controversial immigration policies, including the government's "zero tolerance" family separation policy at the border and ICE's crackdown on undocumented immigrants across the country, with their work culminating in the new docuseries Immigration Nation, which saw its trailer premiered exclusively on and which is set to launch on Netflix on August 3.

In the new series, previewed ahead of its release by Newsweek, ICE agents speak candidly about their orders to ramp up arrests of undocumented immigrants, with one scene showing an agency supervisor in New York ordering an agent to bring in more "collaterals"—undocumented immigrants identified during a targeted arrest—whatever it takes.

"Start taking collaterals man," an ICE supervisor can be heard saying. "I don't care what you do, but bring at least two people in."

Throughout the series, agents can be seen discussing the need to ramp up arrest numbers, while some appear to also boast about how many people have been arrested in a single day.

'We were never like this'

Speaking with individual agents, Schwarz and Clusiau found that some appeared contrite over their role in enforcing Trump's immigration crackdown, while others defended their work, arguing that they are just doing their jobs.

"It's like... too much," one agent in New York told filmmakers, describing how ICE agents had gone from arresting less than eight people in a week under the Obama administration to making more than eight arrests in a single day under Trump.

"It's like the floodgates opened and no one's used to this," the agent said.

"It's not like, 'okay, we went back to the way we were. We were never like this," they said. "It's a different world."

'The bad guys'

Another agent complained of being seen as "the bad guys" in society.

"We constantly look like we're the bad guys, when all we're doing is enforcing the laws and doing our job," the agent says.

"It gets to me sometimes, it does," she says. "Cause, I just feel like, you know, we have no respect."

After working with ICE for roughly 12 years the agent says "things have changed a lot" under Trump.

"Now, the administration has changed and we're finally able to do our job," the agent says. "To be honest with you, I honestly still cannot believe that he's our president. It's the best thing and the worst thing that could have happened to us."

'I love my job'

Another agent shares in those sentiments, acknowledging that "ICE isn't a fan favorite of anybody's. Words like 'Nazis'. 'How can you do this'."

"We're used to it and, I mean, I love my job. I do," he says. 'I have a good stable home. I make money."

Hitting out at criticisms that have, for years, compared ICE agents to Nazis, the agent said: "To be called a Nazi, you know, a racist, you know, it's just ignorant. It's ignorant."

"We don't pick and choose groups of people based on race, color, religion. We just look for people who are removable," he says.

'It's an unfortunate situation'

Other ICE workers appeared to express some regret over their role in enforcing the Trump administration's immigration crackdown.

One agent with ICE fugitive operations, identified only by their first name, "Efran", expressed remorse over the growing arrests of "collaterals" under the Trump administration's guidance of arresting anyone caught living in the U.S. without documentation, a marked departure from the Obama administration's focus on detaining immigrants with criminal convictions.

"Most of our targets are criminal aliens. That's where the collaterals are kind of like, you know, kind of the victim," Efran said. "It's an unfortunate situation because a lot of these guys are hardworking individuals. They're here to work and provide for their family. They just get caught up in politics if you look at it. It's how it is."

One ICE fugitive operations agent, Brian, said he refuses to arrest collaterals, period.

"I don't do collaterals. I just don't think it's right," he said. "If I get somebody that's not cooperative, it's a different story. But, if you let me come into your house and talk to me I'm not gonna roll your fingerprints and arrest you for being here illegally. I know it's my job, but I got guys that are aggravated felons that I'd like to catch. I don't care about the guy that's minding his own business and cooperating with me."

Another agent expressed sorrow in performing arrests that see families separated, with footage in Immigration Nation showing one father being arrested in front of his daughter.

"It gets sensitive when the kids are involved," the agent says. "I'm a dad. It's tough when the kids are involved. Nobody wants to see children hurt. Sometimes it happens. It's not very nice, but that's the law."

Despite that, other officers appear to draw a line between their actions and those of Border Patrol agents who played a central role in separating children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

After years of filming immigration agents and officers, filmmakers Schwarz and Clusiau said the image they were left with of ICE agents was a "complex" one.

'Good cops and bad cops'

Speaking with Newsweek, both filmmakers agreed that the U.S.'s immigration system is "broken." They said it is a broken system that has "chewed up" everyone involved, including the ICE agents who enforce the government's rules.

The entire system, Schwarz said, "is somewhat broken or deliberately...broken, but again, there's a lot of grey areas," he said.

"Bad bureaucracy can overcome common sense," he said. And when it comes to "bad bureaucracy" in U.S. immigration agencies, that can "equal the destruction of a family."

Schwarz said that he did not believe that all officers were "horrible" or "evil" people.

"I think when it comes to ICE, trying to leave some of these pretexts behind, a lot of people are like, 'oh, they're just horrible'. I don't think that's the ICE officers we actually met, for the mostpart," he said.

Like any law enforcement agency, he said, "you will have good cops and bad cops."

'This issue is grey'

Clusiau appeared to share in that sentiment, telling Newsweek: "Really, this issue is grey, it's complicated."

"It is a broken system," she said. The filmmaker said that the issues with the U.S.'s immigration system are "systematic in the sense that all sides, everybody, is kind of chewed up by this broken system."

The Immigration Nation docuseries comes amid growing calls for immigration law enforcement agencies and police departments across the country to be reformed or defunded and abolished completely.

Both filmmakers said that after spending three years documenting ICE and Border Patrol, they believed the U.S. immigration system needs reform. They said they did not believe immigration law enforcement should be abolished.

Asked how they were able to gain such deep access to the DHS's immigration agencies, the filmmakers said it was thanks to rapport Schwarz had built with ICE while previously documenting the agency's work.

The filmmakers had agreed to let ICE review the materials they had gathered ahead of airing the series.

That was when they faced pushback from the agency, which sought to limit how much of their footage went to air. Ultimately the filmmakers said the project was able to move forward.

Immigration Nation airs on Netflix on August 3rd.

Immigration Nation
An immigration arrest can be seen being carried out in Immigration Nation, a new Netflix docuseries launching on August 3, 2020. Immigration Nation

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