The Infiltrators (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Their risky fight against ICE

“The Infiltrators”, which won the Audience award and the NEXT Innovator award when it was shown at the Sundance Film Festival early in this year, is an uneven but engaging mix of fiction and documentary. Although the overall result is not always as successful as intended, the movie is alternatively fascinating and chilling as a closer look into the social issues which have been far more daunting and depressing during last four years in US, and you will also come to admire the considerable courage of a small group of young people determined to fight against those systemic injustices under the US government.

The story is mainly set in Broward Transitional Center, a for-profit detention center located in Pompano Beach, Florida. Run by a publicly traded real estate investment trust which is associated with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), this facility has held hundreds of alleged illegal immigrants classified as “non-criminal and low security detainees”, and the opening part of the film shows and tells us how an Argentine guy named Claudio Rojas was sent there after suddenly arrested by a bunch of ICE agents on one day of 2012. Although he had lived in Florida for several years, he and his family still did not have American citizenship, and he soon faced the possibility of deportation just like many other detainees around him as spending several months in Broward Transitional Center.

Fortunately, there were a number of activists willing to help him despite considerable risks for them, and we are subsequently introduced to some of them one by one. Although he could be deported to his parents’ homeland at any point, Mohammad Abdollahi had passionately worked along with other young illegal immigrants including Marco Saavedra and Viridiana Martinez, and these and other young activists planned to do more than helping Claudio from the outside. They decided to infiltrate into Broward Transitional Center for not only getting more information about the facility the but also getting Claudio and other detainees released from there, and Saavedra volunteered to be arrested and then sent there by Border Patrol even though this action of his could get himself into really serious troubles.

Around that point, directors/co-producers/co-writers Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera begin to alternate between reality and fiction. We see Marco preparing for his infiltration with his fellow activists, and then we get a fictional scene based on the recording of a conversation between him and a Border Patrol officer who was about to arrest him. Now played by Maynor Alvarado from this point, Marco begins to work on his mission step by step once he is sent to the Broward Transitional Center, and he soon encounters Claudio and then informs Claudio on what he is going to do.

Claudio, who is played by Manuel Uriza during the fictional part of the film, willingly tells Marco on many things he should keep in mind during his ongoing detention period. For instance, many of detainees in the facility will certainly welcome any opportunity for getting released instead of getting deported, but some of them are not so trustworthy for being “frogs”, who often interact with those guards in the facility for getting more advantages.

Nevertheless, Marco and Claudio embark on helping several other detainees they can really trust, and we are accordingly served with several dramatic moments showing how Marco and Claudio help these detainees while getting some assistance from Marco’s colleagues on the outside. In case of one detainee, he suddenly finds himself on the deportation list, but, thanks to being informed on a legal loophole at the last minute, he manages to be sent back to the facility in the end.

In the meantime, Marco comes to learn that the facility also has around 100 female detainees, and that prompts Viridiana, who is now played by Chelsea Rendon, to do the same undercover mission. Her first attempt of infiltration is a total failure, but, after going through more preparation with her colleagues, she eventually succeeds in getting into the facility, and it does not take much time for her to get a little friendlier with her fellow female detainees.

As they come to succeed more and more, the situation consequently becomes far riskier for Marco and Viridiana. Sensing that something fishy is going on among their detainees, those guys running the facility become more watchful than before, and Marco and Viridiana naturally become more concerned about that dreadful possibility of getting themselves exposed at any point.

It is not much a spoiler to tell you that Marco, Viridiana, and their colleagues come to have a small moment of victory for not only them but also a number of detainees in the facility, but the film feels rather jarring in its transition from fiction to reality, and its supposedly feel-good ending is inevitably overshadowed by what would follow a few years later. As many of you know, ICE has become more heartless and unforgiving thanks to the current US president during last four years, and I must say that what is presented in the film often seems tame compared to those numerous real-life horror stories involved with ICE and those illegal immigrants in US.

In conclusion, “The Infiltrators” is not entirely satisfying for a number of weak aspects including its rather thin storytelling, but it is still worthwhile to watch on the whole, so I recommend it despite some reservation. Although I was disappointed to see that it does not focus that much on what has been committed by ICE and the US government during last four years, I guess that is the job of other documentaries in the future, and I will eagerly wait for them.

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