Review: Part Documentary, Part Thriller, The Infiltrators Goes Inside the Immigration Issue

Labeled by the filmmakers (accurately so, I might add) as a docu-thriller, The Infiltrators is the fascinatingly told true story of young, undocumented immigrants (most of whom came to the United States with their parents when they were very young) who band together to stop unjust, long-term incarcerations at ICE detention centers, and the resulting deportations. The highly organized and motivated group known as the National Immigrant Youth Alliance does this by having a handful of brave members give themselves up to Border Patrol for the sole purpose of being thrown into these for-profit centers, and then organizing mass appeals by those inside to disrupt the status quo and get many of these DREAMers released.

The Infiltrators

Image courtesy of Oscilloscope Films

The Inflitrators focuses on NIYA members Marco and Viri, who get put into different wings in the same center in Broward County, Florida. Filmmakers Alex Rivera and Cristina Ibarra skillfully blend documentary footage of everything that happens outside of the detention center with re-creations (using actors) of the cloak-and-dagger activities of what transpires inside. Marco must distribute hundreds of hotline phone numbers to every person inside and then later collect consent forms so the NIYA and attorney can begin the process of getting them out. It’s a fascinating exercise in militancy, activism, and just knowing how to find the cracks in the system.

The thriller aspect comes as Marco and Viri attempt to get put into the system by convincing Border Patrol officers that they’d be naive enough to reveal that they don’t have any papers. And by the way, nothing about this process guarantees that the NIYA members are getting out either. The way the mix of footage is put together is like a single narrative, with the re-enactments edited together with the documentary footage. Also, the way the filmmakers found actors who looked remarkably like the people they are portraying is noteworthy.

Nothing about what we see in The Infiltrators looks easy, and the stories of these immigrants (many of whom were detained for not having a driver’s license, which is not actually a detain-able offense) is terrifying, even though the facility is classified as minimum security. It becomes increasingly clear that nearly everyone in the detention center was a functioning, contributing member of society whose only flaw was not being born in America, even if they’d lived here since they were infants. The end result tells a story in a way I’ve never quite seen, in a film that has the welcome distance of news-oriented documentary with the heart and empathy of a feature film. It’s a wonderfully unique experience that I hope people seek out, especially those who think they have their minds made up about immigration.

The film is available now via virtual cinema directly from Oscilloscope, including through the Gene Siskel Film Center. A portion of your rental goes to support the theater.

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