Watch: This Short Documentary Offers a Rare, Powerful Glimpse Into Immigration Detention

Aharrowing new documentary, “The Facility,” follows the lives of immigrants detained in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities across Georgia from March to November 2020 as they fight for their own protection from COVID-19, as well as their dignity under U.S. law.

Most of the documentary was filmed remotely, through a video conferencing app, offering viewers a rare glimpse into daily life inside ICE detention centers. The film focuses primarily on the stories of two immigrants, Nilson Barahona-Marriaga and Andrea Manrique, who employ acts of civil disobedience, like hunger strikes, to fight for their own release from detention and for protection from COVID-19.

Director Seth Freed Wessler, a former reporting fellow at Type Investigations and now an investigative reporter at ProPublica, has for more than a decade reported on U.S. criminal justice and immigration systems. (The Facility is a Field of Vision production, in partnership with Type Investigations and Rayuela Films.) Wessler’s work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Reveal, This American Life and others. Wessler made the film to document the lives of people navigating immigrant detention during a pandemic, and in doing so revealed apparent negligence within ICE-operated health systems.

The film was shot in part inside Irwin County Detention Center, an ICE facility in Ocilla, Georgia that made headlines in 2020 after a nurse working there alleged that a gynecologist had performed unwanted or unnecessary procedures on women without their fully informed consent. She accused doctors of performing unwanted hysterectomies on detained immigrant women. In May, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would close the center. A federal investigation and a class action lawsuit are ongoing.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You began filming your documentary before the Irwin County Detention center made headlines last year. What originally drew you to that facility?

I was corresponding with people in prisons and ICE detention centers all over the place, but I had developed a few sources inside of the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia for separate stories. I began making calls using this video call app to people I had already connected with at the Irwin County Detention Center in order to try to figure out what was happening there as the pandemic was spreading.

What started to become clear to me as I was making these calls through this video app was that I was also observing what it was like inside of that place. I mean, I would sit on a call with one of the people who I’d built a source relationship with and would start to recognize people walking in the background, or would notice that at certain times of day certain television shows were playing on the screen above their heads, or would notice that at certain times of day in the background I would hear prayers, people singing, holding kind of like church. And that’s what pushed me to make something that was a visual story, to try to help viewers walk into that place to be able to get a sense of what it is like, what it might be like, to be detained inside of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center.

For link to article and documentary, go here.

Jasmine Aguilera