Release Date: April 2, 2020
Running Time: 95 minutes
The old adage that the truth is stranger than fiction can easily be applied to The Infiltrators. Directors Alex Rivera and Cristina Ibarra’s taut hybrid documentary chronicles immigration rights activist efforts to secure the release of detainees at the Broward Transitional Center. This is a South Florida for-profit detention facility for non-criminal and non-violent undocumented immigrants facing deportation without trial. But the activists, members of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, are themselves are undocumented immigrants. And, in 2012, they embarked on a campaign that could have resulted with at least two of their own being deported. The brave and quiet heroes of The Infiltrators are Mexican-born DREAMers Marco Saavedra and Viridiana Martinez. In 2012, Saavedra and Martinez willingly surrendered to authorities as part of NIYA’s covert plan to infiltrate the GEO Group-run Broward Transitional Center. The goal: urge detainees to work with NIYA on their release strategy and to expose potential abuses and poor medical conditions at the Broward Transitional Center. The plan was prompted by the arrest of Claudio Rojas, whose family contacted NIYA for help. “I grew up knowing anyone of us … could be kidnapped by the government,” Saavedra says. “Most immigrants pass through a kind of purgatory on the way out of the country. A detention center. Inside, there’s been cases of abuse and even mysterious death. Tonight, I have one question. How can I get in?” Given The Infiltrators’ made-for-Hollywood proposition, Alex Rivera and Cristina Ibarra make the right call to present Saavedra and Martinez’s mission through a combination of documentary footage, interviews, and reenactments. The majority of The Infiltrators is driven by a gripping narrative—featuring actors portraying Saavedra, Martinez, and Rojas—that takes us inside the Broward Transitional Center and unflinching recalls what Saavedra and Martinez reportedly witnessed and experienced. The Infiltrators depicts the Broward Transitional Center as a clean but sterile environment where detainees live an aimless life waiting for the inevitable. Warehoused detainees of multiple nationalities pass the months or the years watching television, socializing, or working for the GEO Group for a dollar a day and the pleasure of receiving more outside visitors. The center’s focal point is “The Big Board,” which shows the status of each detainee. Next to it is a white board with the names of detainees scheduled to be deported that night. Rivera and Ibarra create ample suspense as Saavedra and Martinez go about their business to the point that a guard’s unexpected arrival induces a wretched fear of discovery. At the same time, Rivera and Ibarra know better than to sensationalize the events they stage in The Infiltrators. While they depict some abuses, and allege that two GEO Group employees issued an implied threat to a detainee who refused to get on an airplane for his deportation, Rivera and Ibarra do not indulge in any “gotcha” moments—such as the uncovering of mysterious deaths—that threaten to bring down the Broward Transitional Center. Instead, The Infiltrators is about shedding light on a system that is designed to demoralize and dehumanize a person whose immigration status determines their worth and value—and then finding ways to exploit the weaknesses in said system to put detainees in the best possible position to fight for their release. More important, The Infiltratorsfinds honor and distinction in non-violent protest and activism that requires great personal risk. The payoff is a victory that could be classified as both minor and major, depending on your viewpoint. Ultimately, though, The Infiltrators is a trip back in time, when a group such as the NIYA had a greater chance of securing the release of a detainee because of a president who displayed some sympathy toward undocumented immigrants. The United States is a different country today than it was in 2012 under the Obama Administration. President Trump immediately ramped up the arrest and deportation of undocumented immigrants when he took office in 2017, and he has shown he is less interested in protecting DREAMers than he is in using them as political pawns against the Democrats. In fact, a few months after The Infiltrators premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, one of the film’s main subjects was deported. Was the deportation in retaliation for appearing in The Infiltrators? Maybe. Maybe not. Coincidence or not, this deportation speaks directly to the fears expressed by the undocumented immigrants in The Infiltratorsand have sadly grown louder and stronger with each passing day under the Trump Administration.
Note: The Austin Film Society is presenting a virtual screening of The Infiltrators through April 16 at https://theinfiltrators.vhx.tv/checkout/support-austin-film-society-rent-the-infiltrators/purchase
Posted: April 6, 2020