As the immigration battle and talk of refugees seeking asylum rages on in America, CBS’s December 3 episode of Bull, “Separation,” takes a crack at the issue. At least, it attempts to in the hour long episode, complete with a cop-out at the end, a tactic the show has been prone to.
Danny James (Jaime Lee Kirchner), lead investigator for Dr. Jason Bull (Michael Weatherly), has just gotten serious with her boyfriend, Gabriel Almonte (EJ Bonilla). Only now he’s getting deported. He's been in the United States illegally for seven years after only obtaining a tourist visa good for two weeks.
Gabriel’s home country is never revealed, though it's possible this was purposefully done in favor of the show emphasizing where he comes from isn't the point; it's about how bad the immigration system is here. It’s late at night when Danny asks Bull to share his thoughts on Gabriel’s chances. It’s still early in the episode, before the team is truly desperate, and Bull initially tries to excuse himself with how “It's late, and I'm old and cranky.” He does go on to admit to Danny what he thinks, which isn't necessarily about the merits of the case, but more about the policies of President Trump:
The awful truth? Your friend picked a terrible moment in the history of this country to be from someplace else. But... you never know. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and this country was founded by desperate people, so who knows?
Danny first became suspicious in Bull’s previous episode, “But for the Grace,” which aired on November 12. While he and Danny were dining at a fancy restaurant, Gabriel stepped in to provide life-saving medical care to a man who was suffering from a collapsed lung. After having them quickly leave the restaurant, Gabriel later revealed to Danny he just wants to stay under the radar, despite being a heart surgeon back home, where he is afraid of returning.
It’s too late for Gabriel, however, and because no good deed goes unpunished, he’s been taken to a detention center by immigration before the first commercial break. He’s to go before an immigration judge, he doesn’t have an attorney, and he fully expects to have to say goodbye to Danny and go home.
Viewers are meant to sympathize with Gabriel. He’s a heart surgeon and because he is so smart, he’s in danger of losing his life back home. And he tried to go about some sort of process, but a lawyer took all of his money and ripped him off. What is the guy supposed to do? Seeking asylum would seem like the obvious choice, especially if Gabriel’s life truly was in danger back home. No mention is made of such an attempt, however.
It is not until Danny’s co-workers step in, Benny Colón as Gabriel’s attorney (Freddy Rodriguez) and Bull himself, that asylum is requested. Gabriel and Bull’s team are also up against big, bad, mean Judge Wentworth. “Guys like Wentworth, I've seen them before,” Benny says in response to Bull lamenting how Judge Wentworth wouldn’t make eye contact with Gabriel during his hearing. “Prides himself on being a law and order man. Likes to brag at cocktail parties about being appointed by the Department of Justice. They don't listen to anybody,” he continues.
The show gives its clearest stance on illegal immigration when Bull has Danny testify on Gabriel’s behalf. She is initially planning on asking “that judge how he sleeps knowing he's sending people to certain death,” but is then rightly reminded by Bull that such is not an appropriate way to get a judge on your side.
Instead he tells her:
You want to make that judge understand why Gabriel should be here, not shame him for wanting to send him away. You need to go in there and be that man's advocate. Tell his story. Talk about what makes him special-- not what the judge can do for Gabriel but what Gabriel can do for us, for this country…
As Danny gets passionate with her testimony, using the example of how Gabriel saved a man’s life at dinner. it’s clear the view being advocated for is that illegal immigrants should not have to be in the shadows. This is regardless of whether or not they are breaking the law in being here.
Danny: And now I'd like you to imagine how much better all our lives might be if he were allowed to be visible, to be as smart as he truly is, if he were able to offer this country, my country, our country, his best, instead of hiding in the shadows and pleading for the most basic of human rights, the right to stay alive. I'm… I'm sorry. Did I answer your question?
Benny: You sure did. No further questions, Your Honor.
Attorney: You're a former FBI agent, so let me ask you a simple question. Do you believe Mr. Almonte understands the law?
Danny: I'm sorry, you want me to speculate on what someone does or doesn't understand? You just said he was brilliant. All kinds of education. A doctor. Stands to reason he probably knew he was breaking the law, right?
Danny: Again, I don't think it's my place to...
Attorney: Well, what about you? You think he broke the law?
Danny: Like I said, I think he's a human being trying to stay alive.
Attorney: That's not what I asked, Ms. James.
Judge Wentworth: The witness will answer the question.
Attorney: That's all right. I'll withdraw it. Thank you, Ms. James.
Judge Wentworth: Sit back down. You have not been excused.
Danny: I'm sorry, Your Honor.
Judge Wentworth: I'd like an answer to the question. As a former law enforcement officer, did Gabriel Almonte break the law? A simple yes or no. I'm waiting for an answer, Ms. James.
Danny: Yes, Your Honor. He broke the law.
Judge Wentworth: The laws of the very country he's asking to take him in. Why should we welcome someone in, no matter what he has to offer, if he's already proven he's unwilling to follow our laws?
Benny: Objection, Your Honor. Now, we all understand that this is a passionate debate...
Judge Wentworth: Who are you objecting to, Mr. Colón? Me? My passion? Overruled. Why is it so difficult for people to understand that if we don't uphold our laws, then we maintain no sense of country at all? Now you're excused, Ms. James. I'm ready to rule.
This point is not argued deeply enough with Danny’s passion, but must be contrasted by this big, bad judge’s own passion. A judge who is scoffed at out of the courtroom by the show's regular characters after he rules against Gabriel.
Again, if Gabriel’s life were truly in danger, why wasn’t asylum sought out sooner? And why was his fraudulent lawyer only briefly mentioned and then the idea of seeking him out quickly dismissed?
When a last-minute green card marriage doesn’t work out, the show turns to its cop-out with Gabriel seeking asylum in Germany, described, as a quick 1-2-3 process, with the help from another of Bull’s clients in this episode, who is returning to Frankfurt. While Germany is described by this client as being “enlightened,” it’s worth noting what the show does not, that Germany is presently suffering from a mass migration concern.
The answer to these real-world immigration questions are not simple, and require a system of laws, order, and process, something Judge Wentworth was not wrong about, despite how the show seeks to portray him. To Hollywood, however, these questions have clear cut answers, with idealistic themes about immigrants, regardless of status, being good people, our friends and neighbors who belong in this country. When it’s that simple, and when there are wealthy clients who owe favors, then it's no wonder the complex issues of immigration and seeking asylum can be answered in an hour long episode.