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NPR Arts & Life

'Immigration Nation' Filmmakers: 'The System Chews Up People'

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in today for Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "IMMIGRATION NATION")

BRIAN: Policia. We're not going to yell out in the hallway through a closed door, ma'am. That's not how we do business. Please open the door so I can talk to you.

DAVIES: That's the sound of an immigration raid getting underway in the new six-part documentary series "Immigration Nation" now streaming on Netflix. Our guests today are the series' co-directors and co-executive producers, Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz. They spent three years filming immigration enforcement actions and their effects after President Trump took office, and they had remarkable access to agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. As you'll hear, the filmmakers' relationship with ICE deteriorated sharply after the agency saw rough drafts of the planned episodes.

The series follows ICE agents, their supervisors and spokesmen, activists, immigrants and their families and even a smuggler who guides migrants across the U.S. border for hefty fees. The stories are compelling, and they raise questions about the impact of the Trump administration's crackdown on immigration. Shaul Schwarz and Cristina Clusiau have collaborated on several previous documentaries, including the Emmy award-winning films "A Year In Space" and "Trophy." Schwarz spent time around the U.S.-Mexican border for his 2013 film "Narco Cultura," which premiered at the Sundance Festival in 2013. Schwarz and Clusiau joined me via Skype from Brooklyn.

Well, welcome to FRESH AIR, both of you. And congratulations on the documentary. So let's begin with the immigration arrest that we just heard a bit of that opens the series. Do you want to just explain what's happening here a bit, and then we'll listen and talk a bit more about how they get in?

SHAUL SCHWARZ: Well, we are in New York City with Fugitive Operations. That's a part of ICE that basically gets what they refer to as targets, an alien - I'm using their terminology - an alien that's committed a crime. And they are looking to, basically, make an arrest to that individual. In doing so, ICE usually does some pre-work and some kind of detective work to know where the individual's at or what's the best way to approach it. And, usually, the individuals on these task force start very early in the morning, and the scene you are seeing is when they're knocking on a door, I'd say, just after 6:00 a.m. in the Bronx.

DAVIES: Right. And we'll just note that there are quite a number of ICE officers sort of lined up in the hallway. So let's hear what happens. This is briefly edited for length. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY "IMMIGRATION NATION")

BRIAN: Policia. We're not going to yell out in the hallway through a closed door, ma'am. That's not how we do business. Please open the door so I can talk to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR OPENING)

BRIAN: How are you doing? Sorry to bother you. We need to come in and talk to you. We don't all have to come in, just a couple of us, but I want to show you some pictures. Somebody we're looking for has been using this address.

ANNA: Oh, OK.

BRIAN: All right.

ANNA: You want to come in?

BRIAN: Yeah, if you don't mind. What's your name, ma'am?

ANNA: Anna (ph).

BRIAN: Anna, OK, do you mind if I come in? How many people are in here?

ANNA: Three adults and one baby.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED AGENT #1: She's in the bathroom.

ANNA: No, no, they're not telling me nothing.

BRIAN: If you don't mind, can you just go in the living room? I'll tell everything that's going on.

ANNA: (Speaking Spanish).

BRIAN: Dave (ph), I'm going to explain to the daughter what's going on.

He has a criminal warrant. He was deported before. It's actually a federal offense to come back in the country, so I have a warrant for his arrest.

ANNA: Can I see the warrant?

BRIAN: I'm not obligated to show it to anybody. I have a warrant, trust me. I'm not in here without it, all right? I have a warrant for his arrest. I've got to take him to the Southern District of New York. He's going to be remanded today.

ANNA: OK, but I need - can I see any paperwork?

BRIAN: Yeah, I'll give you a card.

ANNA: No, I mean, like, paperwork saying that you guys have...

BRIAN: Sure.

ANNA: ...Permission to come in here or something.

BRIAN: Oh, no, I have a warrant for him, and I know he lives here. So that's why I'm in here. Plus, you opened the door and let me in.

DAVIES: And that's from the documentary "Immigration Nation," which is co-directed by our guests Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz. You know, I've heard immigration attorneys advise people who lack legal status that if ICE officers show up at your door, you're not obliged to open the door; you're not obliged to let them in, which some might find a little strange, given that they're federal officials. Talk a little bit about what we're hearing here and how ICE officers manage the rules to get into an apartment in a circumstance like this.

CHRISTINA CLUSIAU: That is correct. Usually, if it's an administrative warrant - which a number of these warrants are with fugitive ops teams - they are not allowed to just enter a property unless they are given permission. So what generally happens is they knock on the door - they call it a knock-and-talk - and they convince the individual inside - if they believe that the target that they're going after is in the apartment or is using the address, they use all sorts of tactics, as you hear, to get access to the apartment. And then, at that point, they can make an arrest and detain the individual that they were targeting. And so in this situation, because they only have an administrative warrant, they need the individual to open the door, and if not, they usually have to leave.

DAVIES: Right. So what begins as, open the door ma'am so we can talk, ends with, I don't have to show you the warrant.

SCHWARZ: Correct. It's a cat and mouse, if you will. For the ICE agents who work in fugitive operations, there's a lot of prep work that goes in. They want to get in that door. They're there. They've woken up early. They're keen to get their arrests.

This is also during an operation - you know, when Trump came into power, there was this push to install fear, if you will, to know that there is activities. New York City ICE was upset. They didn't see cooperation from the local police, and they wanted to make a point that if you're not going to play along, we're going to get out there and we're going to take people, you know - specifically they go after what's called targets. Those are the people who both have an immigration offense and some kind of other criminal act that could be small or big.

But there's also what's called a collateral arrest, when you encounter people that are at that address that are simply here with an immigration offense. So this was part of an operation that was called Keep Safe, and it was kind of a pushback to the city to show that they will be aggressive and they will get out there.

DAVIES: You know, they begin when they knock on the door by saying policia - police. Are they police?

SCHWARZ: They are police. But that is a tactic they are literally taught. The idea is, like, if they say ICE, the door is not opening, as far as they're concerned.

CLUSIAU: And just to add to that, you know, I think what we started to see during this period of time is that there was much more awareness of ICE officers coming to doors early in the morning, and so there was also a pushback from immigration advocates and immigration lawyers to know your rights, to state to individuals that you're not obliged to open the door if somebody comes to your door and says that they're immigration.

And so ICE had to get creative with their tactics. And so they're trained to say police. They're trained to convince them to open the door, just as Shaul said, to say that, you know, this is - we're looking for somebody that's using this address. And, generally, we saw most people comply with that, but others don't. And so there was always a pushback - is that they would go to a number of doors in the morning, and, you know, they would maybe be able to enter into 1 out of 5 apartments or 1 out of 6. And as time went on, through this period of time, we saw that getting increasingly more difficult for them.

DAVIES: And you noted that there would be a target person for the arrest. But then, if there are other people there who don't have legal status, they would arrest them, too, typically call them collaterals, and they'd like to get the numbers up. There's a moment here where we hear the officer involved in the raid that we heard - I think his name is Brian (ph) - talking about how this whole collateral thing didn't sit so well with him. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "IMMIGRATION NATION")

BRIAN: I don't really - I don't do collaterals. I just don't think it's right. Like, if I get somebody that's not cooperative, it's a different story. But if you let me into your house and talk to me, I'm not going to roll your fingerprints and arrest you just because you're here illegally. I know it's my job, but I've - you know, I've 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. Just for the sake of numbers, anyway.

DAVIES: Interesting, isn't it? In "Immigration Nation," I think one of the most fascinating things about the six-part documentary is how many ICE agents you get in candid moments, expressing opinions. I want to play a couple of them here, besides those. One is a couple of officers - and this is in Charlotte, N.C. - where ICE has gone on an aggressive enforcement campaign after a new local sheriff was elected who terminated a program in which people arrested locally would be routinely turned over to immigration authorities. So ICE decided to react to that by going out and arresting people into the community, which created quite a reaction. And what we're going to hear here is a couple of ICE agents returning from one of these actions where they've arrested several immigrants.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "IMMIGRATION NATION")

UNIDENTIFIED AGENT #2: My last stop, one of the guys, like - he goes, what are you doing? I said, you're under arrest. What am I under arrest for? I said, you're here illegally. He goes, you can't arrest us for being here illegally anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED AGENT #3: (Laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED AGENT #2: I said, really? Watch this.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED AGENT #3: You can't arrest us for being here illegally anymore. They told me at a press conference that this is a sanctuary place, and you're not allowed to arrest me anymore. They did? They lied to you. (Laughter).

DAVIES: I want to play one more clip. Then we'll talk. This is another officer, Mike (ph), who is working along the U.S.-Mexican border, driving along in a pickup and sharing his view of this job. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "IMMIGRATION NATION")

MIKE: I can't tell you how exhausting it is day in and day out to be putting cuffs on people that - you honestly can't blame one iota for what they did. They didn't kill their wife. They didn't set off a bomb somewhere. They didn't rob a bank. Doing exactly what I would do in their situation, which is to try to come here. I don't like that about my career, but I still think it's important to do it. And I put my personal feelings aside, which - yeah, maybe that's what every Nazi said, right? That I put my feelings aside. But I actually believe in the cause of trying to enforce some sort of sovereignty over our borders. And no one's figured out a better way to do it yet.

DAVIES: And that's from the documentary "Immigration Nation," a six-part documentary series now streaming on Netflix, co-directed by our guests, Shaul Schwartz, and Christina Clusiau.

This is a remarkable look inside of ICE. Did most officers have some ambivalence about arresting and deporting these people, who - many of whom they had to see as pretty desperate about seeking to better their lives?

SCHWARZ: I'd say some. I think some did. I think perhaps the majority did not or didn't show it quite - but, you know, ICE is a big agency. And there's definitely all kind of shades of officers. There was definitely overall an emboldment (ph) during the Trump era that kind of went from the top down of this proud to do the job and to push back and to show. So I think we show that in the show of the number game and the people kind of really feeling - you know, I remember when we started. They said, you know, now we're supported. The gloves are off. And there was - a lot of people felt excited about - that they get to do their job in their language. But, you know, there are certainly officers that were different and questioned it. I remember we spent a lot of officer - a lot of time with an officer called Judy (ph) in New York. And I think she questioned it from the beginning. Her tactics and her showing discretion to how to do her job was a less offensive way and really trying to minimize this situation. So I think we saw all shades of reactions.

DAVIES: Let me reintroduce you. We're going to take a little break here. Shaul Schwarz and Cristina Clusiau are co-directors of the six-part documentary series "Immigration Nation," now available for streaming on Netflix. We'll be right back after this break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLOWBERN'S "WHEN WAR WAS KING")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And my guests are Shaul Schwarz and Cristina Clusiau, co-directors and co-producers of the new six-part documentary series "Immigration Nation," now available for streaming on Netflix.

You know, I have to ask you how you got this incredible access to ICE, which is not known for opening its doors to media.

SCHWARZ: Yeah. We had a relationship with ICE from prior work on working the Mexican-American drug war. And I had worked with Homeland Security investigation, which is a part of ICE, back almost a decade ago on some of the drug work they do. And during that, I met a ICE spokesman which I stayed an acquaintance or became, really, a friend of. And through the years, I would ask him during the Obama times once or twice, if - in very uncasual ways - but if we could also do an immigration story. And the general feel I got at that time is, you know, no one's really complaining. Let's - no need for this.

And, you know, immigration was - has always been a hot issue, but it wasn't what it became under the Trump era. And as Trump was campaigning and shortly after he had won the election, me and Christina thought, we wonder if ICE position would change? We certainly expected them to come under a lot of heat during this administration. And we thought this might be a time where they would want to trust someone to go in there. And we pitched them with the idea. We said, listen. You're going to come under a lot of heat. Most people don't understand the complexity of the issue and what ICE actually does as a whole. And we would love to do a portrait of the agency under this administration and see what - the position your officers are in and see how that whole immigration system looks in this time. And that's kind of how it started.

DAVIES: So you had a contract with them - right? - which guaranteed you independence. But it gave them the right to review the material once you were prepared to air it and object on certain limited, specific grounds. What could they object to?

CLUSIAU: Correct. So we had what was called a multimedia agreement. And it's not - it's something that all production companies have if you are working with a government agency such as DHS. And so within that contract, it said that ICE had the right to review the cuts for factual inaccuracies, law enforcement sensitive information - so tactics that they use that are not publicly available or publicly known - and any sort of privacy Fourth Amendment rights.

DAVIES: And when you showed them some early drafts of the episodes, what happened?

CLUSIAU: So that's when, really, the tone changed. We had a really good relationship for 2 1/2 years. We had the ability to work within the system all over the country. And when we started to show them cuts, they clearly determined that this is not favorable to them and that this is not something that they liked. And so they started to push back on other things, not only the three things that we mentioned that were in the contract, but also they tried to editorialize some of the content.

SCHWARZ: Yeah. They - eventually, for months, we would be back and forth with the spokesman. They would come up with, to say the least, bizarre legal ideas of why certain things should be deleted. And they were very - the pattern was very clear when it was unfavorable. And when they had anything, they would just go at the opportunity. They claimed, really, at times, quite ridiculous claims. You know, to give a quick example, there was a machine that takes your fingerprints when officers are out in the field. They saw a scene that officers do it and take a couple of collateral arrests and told us that we should take out the scene because that is law enforcement sensitive. Well, we Googled it. And we saw that it was all over the place.

DAVIES: All over the place as in, like, on their own website, right?

SCHWARZ: Yeah. So then, at first, we were like, this picture is all over media. Then we saw that the picture was actually distributed by ICE spokesmen, who are the ones telling us that this is law enforcement sensitive. It's really unfortunate. I think we are grateful to the boots on the ground kind of men and women of ICE for being super real, for letting us be flies on the wall, for being open, for being honest, for being complex. And that's the show we wanted to put forward. And I think if, you know - the requests that they made that did make sense, some of them were not in the contract. They said, you know, please take the last names of our officers and delete those. And we are like, of course. That seems like a request that is very fair. But we just wish it didn't kind of become what it had. But it was also very telling about this administration.

DAVIES: You know, the Trump administration's policy of separating families at the border - or zero tolerance - is portrayed in the film. There's one case, a man named Bernardo (ph), who came from Guatemala with his son, Emilio (ph). And they were separated. And you filmed him at a detention center, I believe, in El Paso, while his son was allowed to go and live with Bernardo's sister-in-law. Was that in Houston? I'm trying to remember.

SCHWARZ: Yes.

DAVIES: Right. So I want to hear a moment here where Bernardo was talking to you at the detention center utterly distraught, in tears. We'll listen to just a bit because it's in Spanish. But I thought we - I just wanted to get a sense of the emotional impact of some of these scenes. Let's listen to this man who's been separated from his son.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "IMMIGRATION NATION")

BERNADO: (Speaking Spanish).

DAVIES: Essentially, he's saying there, I haven't seen my son in three months. And we don't know what's going to happen. You know, it gradually dawned on the media and the public what was happening with this child separation, but not immediately because it was implemented before it was publicly announced. You were following, you know, immigration enforcement through this period. Did you see this unfold in real time?

SCHWARZ: Yeah. Pretty much. We - when the story broke, we were inside the El Paso detention center. So as we kind of tiptoed to get this story - and I remember being there one day and asking one of the deportation officers if he knows if there's any separated family of - fathers. We were in a male cell here. And he went into the cell. Sam (ph) is his name. And he kind of really nonchalantly asked, hey, is there - you know, how many of you have been separated from your kids? And out of 20 in that room, 18 raised their hand. And I do remember me and Christina kind of being like, ho. And that's where we met Bernardo and some of the other fathers we portray in the show.

DAVIES: All right. Let me reintroduce you. And we'll take another break here. Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz are co-directors and co-producers of the six-part documentary series "Immigration Nation" - now available for streaming on Netflix. They'll talk more about what they observed of immigration enforcement after we take a break. I'm Dave Davies. And this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE SERGIO AND ODAIR ASSAD'S "SAGA DOS MIGRANTES: SAUDADES")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross, who's off this week. My guests are Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau, co-directors and co-producers of the six-part documentary series "Immigration Nation," which is now available for streaming on Netflix. They spent three years filming immigration enforcement and its effects with remarkable inside access to immigration officers as they arrested and detained undocumented immigrants. When we left off, we'd heard about a man named Bernardo who'd come to the U.S. from Guatemala and was arrested and detained and separated from his teenage son.

What's really remarkable about this, I think, is that you not only show Bernardo, who's at the detention center in El Paso, but you find Emilio, his son, who is at his aunt's house in Houston, and you really cover both ends of the story. There are times when Emilio and his father Bernardo are talking. We hear both ends of the conversation. We hear Emilio, the son, talking to his mother in Guatemala. And this is pretty remarkable stuff. How did you track this down and manage to cover both sides of this drama?

CLUSIAU: Yeah, because we met Bernardo initially, and he, you know, wanted to tell his story, wanted to share what he was going through. He also told us that it was very important for us to not just tell his story from in detention but to tell the story of his son, of his sister-in-law and his wife back in Guatemala.

And so we kind of felt that we started to understand that when you detain an individual within ICE detention, you're not just detaining that person, that there is a circular effect that happens to all members of their family. So whether it be Rebecca, who is in Guatemala, who is waiting for Bernardo to make sure that he is safe, whether there is Emilio, who felt at the time that he was the reason that they were separated, you know, this, like, trauma and blame, and you start to see the effect of the whole cycle, that it's just not the person in detention, but it's everybody else, the entire family.

And so we started to go to - we went to Houston. We talked to Emilio. We talked to Irene (ph), his - the sister-in-law. And then we also went - we felt it was really important to show the life in Guatemala and what was happening there. And so we went to see Rebecca and the other two kids to understand what they were going through because of this separation and this detention of Bernardo.

DAVIES: You know, we should also note that Bernardo was seeking asylum, right? And he was presented with a choice, right? You can go back to Guatemala, be deported, you - we'll send you and Emilio back to Guatemala if you will give up your asylum claim, right? So there was an out for him if he just gave up his case, right?

CLUSIAU: Correct. And I think the trick was - is that a lot of the tactics that we saw and that we talked about earlier is this idea to make life so unbearable that you will just give up. And so we saw it, for example, with Bernardo. We saw it with another character, Berta. We saw it with another character, Deborah, that - you put the paperwork in administrative processing. You make it terrible for them to stay here, that they just want to give up, even though they are trying to respect the laws and trying to do everything in their power to do it the right way, to file for asylum, to ask for protection, that our laws allow us to do. But this administration wants to make you give up.

DAVIES: You know, the case of Berta is interesting. She came with her granddaughter - right? - who a local gang wanted to take her for, quote-unquote, "marriage." And so they left, came and applied for asylum. And then Berta, while - you know, presented herself as the law provides and, while waiting for a resolution of the case, is held in a detention center for 17 months. You know, the Trump administration has said - we've heard the president say, look; this request for asylum has become a gambit that, you know, economic migrants play. They all come with a script - oh, you know, in my village, I face danger if I go back, and therefore I'm seeking asylum.

In your experience talking to the many, many immigrants that you spoke to, did you get any sense that anyone was trying to kind of game the system and misrepresent the dangers that they faced?

SCHWARZ: Yes, there were some. I think there are some people who use that as a loophole. With that said, there's many who don't, who you get a sense that their case is super real. There's many who had fear that didn't exactly qualify, wasn't documented well enough. But what we would see overwhelmingly, especially as time kind of pushed forward and the remain in Mexico policy, so to speak, came is that there wasn't a real attempt to weed out those who are gaming the system and those who are real; there was an attempt to send a message that you are not wanted.

In Berta's case, like we said, she did everything correctly. Her case was very, very strong. There was great documentation of past issues. Here's a lady that could qualify from a bond from ICE. They get all - but they choose to hold her for 17 months, and the reason was sending a message. If you come here, this is what - this is pre- (ph) making immigrants wait in Mexico.

So, yes, I do think there was a loophole in asylum that was sometimes there, and some people took advantage, but I think the correction, so to speak, was not a real attempt to correct. And we've seen other reports of people whose job it is in USCIS to interview these people and - saying that the system was constantly putting pressure on them to find anything to toss them. So, you know, we have to kind of be careful about the lines here.

DAVIES: You know, the last episode of this series takes us to the border where Customs and Border Protection, you know, seeks to stop people who are coming across the border, and there are also officials of ICE and its - what? - I guess the investigation and security division. Is that what it's called?

SCHWARZ: Homeland...

CLUSIAU: Homeland Security Investigations.

DAVIES: Right. You have a little anecdote of one agent, who is also a paramedic, who assists people who are dying, starving and dehydrating in the desert. He gets a call on the radio that there's a guy out on a road who's in pretty bad shape. He finds him. And he's a young Guatemalan man who is lost. And the agent could see from the truck that he has little spines and thorns and barbs in his lips, which tells him he was so desperate he was eating the cactus.

CLUSIAU: Yeah. I mean, this unit is an elite Border Patrol unit called BORSTAR - border, trauma...

SCHWARZ: Search and rescue.

CLUSIAU: ...Search and rescue. And their role is complex because they're tasked with, one, helping those that they find lost in the desert and, two, then detaining them. And so there's this complexity that happens. And I think when the officer approaches him on the side of the road, he had already - he had seen this before. This wasn't the first time that he found a migrant that had crossed and spent 15 days in the desert and had to eat cactuses and had no water. And so their job is to help them. But then at the same time, the flip side of that is because they are still a law enforcement agency, that individual is detained.

DAVIES: He literally picks the barbs out of his lips and tongue before he arrests him.

CLUSIAU: Exactly.

SCHWARZ: It's an amazing moment where, again, if you look at it in the cat and mouse, the cat gets a mouse, helps him for a second. But everybody - and the immigrant is thankful, but it's just the sheer information that we saw kind of unfold of the immigrant saying that he was left to die and someone else has died and that he's walked 15 days and how dehydrated he is. And even - I mean, this was near Tulsa, and he asks him if he's next to LA. Just the confusion, and it was - to us and to our camera person - Erik's filming there - it was so haunting to see. But I think for the agents on the ground, this is the reality. This is something that happens day to day. And there is this kind of feeling we got there and elsewhere filming the show that they're almost desensitized in a way to that.

And even as he helps him - right after the young Guatemalan man is taken by the ambulance, he talks to one of his colleagues and say how fun this area is and how they kind of chase people. And there's a duality of this chase that leads people deeper into the desert where they might die - and at the same time, seeing this agent being able to change his hat on and be very kind and picking out the thorns and helping and perhaps saving lives.

DAVIES: We're going to take another break here, so let me reintroduce you. Shaul Shwarz and Christina Clusiau are co-directors of the six-part documentary series "Immigration Nation," now available for streaming on Netflix. We'll be right back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and my guests are Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz, co-directors and co-producers of the new six-part documentary series "Immigration Nation," now available for streaming on Netflix.

We meet a guy named Caesar (ph) - or Cesar, I guess, who's an interesting example of an undocumented immigrant. You want to just explain his situation?

SCHWARZ: Yeah. He is - well, he was brought here when he was 2 years old. He eventually becomes legal, has a green card, and he joins the U.S. Marines. Well, Cesar commits a crime after being in the Marines of possession of marijuana - a large quantity, by the way - but signs a plea deal, does not spend a day in jail and continues his life. Twelve years later, he takes a vacation to Costa Rica. And on the way back, he is arrested, turned over to ICE and deported. Cesar is one of hundreds, possibly thousands, of deported veterans - people who have served in our armed forces and have been deported after for committing a certain crime. And unlike most of these veterans, Cesar chose to come back home and live as a fugitive. He believes that he's an American. He did not want to stay in Mexico. And we met him after he had been in hiding for over six years.

DAVIES: Right. And we'll listen to a moment from the documentary. And this is where - he has gone to try and visit the newly elected Governor of Arizona, Michelle Lujan Grisham, who, as a congressperson, had expressed support for veterans in this position, who had been deported. And he's going to see the governor because she could grant a pardon to him for the marijuana conviction that led to him being deported, which presumably would allow him to regain status and live legally in the United States. And what we'll hear here is where an assistant to the governor has come out, a young woman, and explained that the governor is too busy to meet with him now. And so Cesar is standing in this reception area, there are a lot of people around, and he pleads with this young assistant to help him.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "IMMIGRATION NATION")

CESAR LOPEZ: I'm tired. And I'm tired of the politicians not listening to us. How can they do this to us? We were willing to give our lives. I would have given my life for you right now. I would stand in front of a bullet for anyone here. All I ask is for her to say - you know what? - you guys are worth it. You guys are our Marines, our Army. You should have never been deported. This should have never happened. This is a tear in the American fabric of our society, and we need to mend it. And we need to mend it with actions, not words. We need to do it now. Save me, please. I want to come home legally.

DAVIES: It's quite a moment. He's wearing his Marine uniform there as he is in the governor's reception area. Do you know if he ever got to meet with the governor? Was it ever resolved?

SCHWARZ: He did not meet with the governor. But I am happy to say that a few weeks ago, Cesar actually received the pardon from the governor. So he is in the process of getting - trying to fix his status. Even though he was pardoned, he's still currently undocumented and is trying to work with his immigration lawyers to change that.

DAVIES: So it's not clear that that will happen. He still has to make his case.

CLUSIAU: Correct.

SCHWARZ: Correct. It's unclear. We have seen other veterans that were pardoned that were able to do it. But since Cesar did choose to come back, it's hard to say. And he's trying to make his, case even though the governor did pardon him. Cesar is one of many veterans who are really activists trying to change this. And I think this is something that really hit us hard. And it says something about the system in large - this debate is so heated, and we're so quick to disagree and scream at each other as a country about it. And the strange thing is I think we saw a lot of things that we think we could agree on. And this is a great example. I mean, how many Americans really think we should be deporting our veterans? I doubt many. Yet this has been active since the Clinton days.

DAVIES: How is it that undocumented people can join the military and then be deported for? It. How does this happen?

CLUSIAU: Yes, so you have to be a legal permanent resident or a green card holder in order to join the military. And so it's not undocumented individuals. You have to have some sort of status in the country in order to join the military. And so Cesar - at that period of time, he had a legal permanent residence and a green card holder. So he was able to join the military.

SCHWARZ: But during President Clinton, there was a reform, which was really a very restrictive - that's our last time we have overhauled the immigration system. And it was really a very restrictive reform. And as part of that, it said that legal residents, including green card holders which commit a crime - first it was felonies. It's been dropped to nonviolent crimes, as well, later - could be deported. It didn't specifically target veterans, but it included them. And so ever since then, we've seen these people basically turn into deportable. And just as a reference, immigrants widely serve our country. There's been over half a million immigrants - legal residents - that decided to join the armed forces in this country.

SCHWARZ: Did you need to get specific permission from everyone that you filmed? I'm wondering what kind of legal and ethical issues come into play when you're, you know filming, you know, an arrest or some other operation. Sure.

CLUSIAU: We did get specific permission from anybody that we filmed and any of the characters that we profiled throughout the series. It became tricky, especially when we are embedding with ICE because, for example, when you go to a door with ICE at 6 a.m. and knock on the door, we needed to make it very clear from the outset that we were not with ICE, that we were independent journalists and that we were requesting to come in and document. A lot of times, people would say no. You know, I'm not interested. And we would back off and wait outside. And others would say, yes, you can come in and document. I think people wanted to record what was happening. And so after that, we would follow up with them again and say, you know, we need you to sign releases. You know, we would like to tell your story. We'd like to continue on. And so those were the processes we'd take. And even when we were in detention centers, we had a protocol that we would need individuals that we spoke to sign releases.

SCHWARZ: And just to add, when we met Cesar, the deported veteran, he told us about his story and that he was a fugitive in his own country. And I remember the first question was, like, are you sure you want to do this? You would basically be calling (ph) yourself. And he said, a Marine never hides, kind of almost like a gimmick. And I remember that when we got closer to Cesar, maybe a month into shooting, we looked at him and when his wife was there, too. And we said, Cesar, when we asked you, you kind of said that. Are you sure? Do you want to do this? It's better - if you don't, it's better that we back up now. And I remember that at that time, we, like - him, like, actually sitting with his wife and digesting that and coming back and saying, yes, let's do this.

But a lot of these, it's an example of these relationships that you would have to manage over a course of a time to make sure that those who are telling their stories really understand what they're doing. And, you know, now that it's come out, we've had great response from a lot of the immigrants and from some of the ICE agents but predominately from the immigrants coming back and kind of saying, you know, oh, my God. This has come to life. And just seeing what they went through. And we're grateful for those who took the leap of faith and gave us the trust to tell their story.

DAVIES: Well, Shaul Schwarz, Christina Clusiau, thank you so much for speaking with us.

SCHWARZ: Thank you.

CLUSIAU: Thank you.

DAVIES: Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz are co-directors and co-producers of the six-part documentary series "Immigration Nation," now available for streaming on Netflix. Coming up, Kevin Whitehead reviews jazz pianist and composer James Carney's new album, "Pure Heart." This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALFREDO RODRIGUEZ'S "VEINTE ANOS")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. Jazz pianist and composer James Carney has worked as a music editor in the film industry, produced a Brooklyn concert series and led a few varied bands of his own. Along the way, he's met a diverse set of musicians. He collected a handful for a new sextet record. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has more.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Aug. 17, 2020. This report incorrectly identified Michelle Lujan Grisham as the governor of Arizona. Lujan Grisham is the governor of New Mexico.]

(SOUNDBITE OF JAMES CARNEY SEXTET'S "MAYOR OF MARCELLUS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: August 17, 2020 at 12:00 AM EDT
This report incorrectly identified Michelle Lujan Grisham as the governor of Arizona. Lujan Grisham is the governor of New Mexico.