In “Deportation Nation,” a new original documentary released today by Atlantic Studios, former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio stands by the controversial statement he made a decade ago, when he called his infamous Tent City a concentration camp. Arpaio, who President Trump pardoned last summer for defying a court order to stop racial profiling and is now running for U.S. Senate, says in The Atlantic’s documentary that he sees no reason to reconsider the remark: “I’m not going to back down. So what? Maybe it is a concentration camp. I don’t want to make it look nice, like the Hilton Hotel. I want to say it’s a tough place so people don’t want to come there.”
“Deportation Nation” goes behind the gates of America’s immigration detention centers: a hidden constellation of facilities across the country where as many as 50,000 people a day, including families and children, are currently being held for prolonged periods of time. Since 2003, more than 179 people have died in ICE detention centers while awaiting deportation. Jessica Vaughan, an analyst who supports immigration restrictions, says that voters support detention as a signal of toughness on immigration: “If the wall is a symbol of border security and immigration enforcement, they understand that detention is a brick in that wall.”
The 17-minute film is reported by The Atlantic’s video producer Jeremy Raff, who got extensive access to Arpaio and former and current ICE officials. “Deportation Nation” concentrates its reporting in Arizona, California, and Mexico, revealing a polarized, and politicized, situation when it comes to addressing America’s broken immigration system:
A sign on Arpaio’s office wall ends with the phrase, “If you don’t want to do the time, don’t do the crime.” Raff asks him: “Does that apply to you, too?” To which Arpaio replies: “That’s if you do a crime, if you’re found guilty.”
Arpaio on why presidential candidates routinely seek his endorsement: “Why is it that all of these presidential candidates come, they want my endorsement, they come to the jails, ‘Oh, we love this place. If I’m the president, we’re going to operate just like he does.’ That means the federal prisons will operate just like I run the jails. Why do they say that, if it’s so bad or not bad? So that’s a good question that I’m asking myself, right?”
John Sandweg, former acting director of ICE, voices concern about deaths in immigration detention: “There are safer and more humane ways of doing this that are just as tough. It makes no sense to me. … We should ask ourselves a larger question which is: Why are we in this business? What do we get out of this? It’s just the politics of it. The public likes to hear detention, it sounds tough.”
Raff reports that ICE agents are optimistic about the expansion under Trump. Henry Lucero, who oversees ICE operations in Arizona, tells The Atlantic: “Now if we encounter you, there is a very great chance you’re going to be arrested,” he said. While the Obama administration tried to prioritize deportation of those with criminal records, Trump effectively made every undocumented immigrant a potential target. “The handcuffs are taken off of our individual officers,” said Lucero, echoing Arpaio. Non-criminal arrests more than doubled last fiscal year to 37,734, according to ICE.
A report on TheAtlantic.com, "'So What? Maybe It Is a Concentration Camp’," accompanies the documentary.
“Deportation Nation” will be followed by further documentary reporting exploring other aspects of America’s immigration policies.