The week’s not over yet, and television viewers have been treated multiple times to lectures about illegal immigration. On March 14’s episode of For the People, “This Is America,” we’re treated to a spectacular feat complete with showdowns in a federal courthouse, quick trips across the country to immigrant detention centers, and calls to ICE and Washington, DC. All because of a Guatemalan man named Merced and his 7-year old son, Ramon.
Merced, who has been in the country for two years and works as a delivery driver, shows up at the courthouse to testify as a cooperating witness in a case, only to be detained by ICE. Ramon is left behind, and is taken care of by the law clerk, Tina Krissman (Anna Deavere Smith). Tina enlists the aid of attorney Jay Simmons (Wesam Keesh), who unleashes this tearful screed against ICE in appealing to attorney Leonard Knox (Regé-Jean Page) and Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Roger Gunn (Ben Shenkman) to do something:
Leonard; Merced Garcia?
Leonard: That's not your case. Why?
Jay: He was picked up by ICE.
Leonard: What are you talking about?
Jay: In the courthouse.
Leonard: In the courthouse? After my hearing?
Leonard: Who told you this?
Leonard: He was cooperating. He was a cooperating witness, and they picked him up in the courthouse?
Jay: Yes. And not just that.
Leonard: He had a kid with him.
Roger: A kid?
Leonard: Yes, a boy.
Roger: Where is he now?
Jay: He's still in the courthouse.
Leonard: This is totally outrageous.
Leonard: He didn't want to testify. I had to beg him to come in, and then they take him? In our courthouse?
Jay: They are arresting parents dropping their children off at school. They are getting motels to turn over guest lists and running Latino-sounding names. They are looking at records of people who report domestic violence and arresting the victims. This is where we are now. This is what they do. Now, what are you going to do?
Roger: There's nothing we can do. I will call over to ICE. I don't think it will help.
Jay: Well, that's why I work on the other side of the street... to help.
This is not the only grim picture painted of our immigration system. Ted (Charles Michael Davis), the investigator for the Public Defender’s office, informs his team of what he believes Ramon will be in for if he’s picked up by ICE:
If that happens, he goes into a refugee resettlement facility. Now, that could be in New York or Michigan or Florida. He could be moved around. He probably would be. He'd be there for days or months. There are rules, but the rules don't really apply anymore. He could be kept in a cage. He could be given psychotropic drugs. He could be forced to walk around without shoes, to clean toilets with his bare hands, to sleep standing up. He could be sexually abused. You want to know what happens? This happens. If Merced gets deported, Ramon very well might stay in the U.S., in foster care, not allowed to leave, in a kind of legal purgatory -- not a citizen, not free, not able to go home.
Eventually, ICE does get wind of where Ramon is and agents come to collect him. Tina won’t budge, however, to hand the boy over. When she is threatened with arrest she calls the bluff, and so begins the showdown. Tina does tell the agents, “You have a job to do, I understand that,” but then tells the agents they’re acting “barbarically.” So does she really understand, then? Especially when she says “this is not your job,” when it, in fact, is.
The show is an hour long, so it can’t have a happy ending too quickly. Merced, who is discovered to be at a detention center in Arizona, is initially denied bond. He’s ultimately, in the last scenes of the episode, reunited with Ramon, as it’s insinuated everything is going to be just fine since he’s going to testify in Leonard’s case. But since this is a Shondaland production, there has to still be some more juicy lecturing, from Tina and Jay, before all that, as if they haven’t preached to viewers enough, and just when the case looks like it is getting pretty hopeless:
U.S. Attorney Douglas Delap: I've complained to ICE, to the Secretary directly. We can hope this won't happen again, but we're at the end of the line now.
Roger: You can make a call--
Douglas: The call has been made, Roger. It has come in. From Washington. This needs to be cleaned up. They're not gonna have a standoff in the courthouse anymore. They’re going to take the boy.
Roger: Then it won't just be the boy.
Tina: They're on their way?
Jay: Soon. I don't understand what's happening here. What country is this?
Tina: This is America.
Jay: This is not the America I know. When I came here with my family, we had nothing, and we struggled, but we built a life here, and we were welcome here. For years, my dad kept this little picture of Ronald Reagan above our kitchen table, with these quotes from him. About immigrants. "These families came here to work. They came to build. They brought with them courage, ambition, and the values of family." That is the America I know. I am an immigrant. I am the child of immigrants. We were welcome here.
Tina: And today you probably wouldn't be. This is America. It expands and it contracts. Advances and recedes. Opens and closes. This is a country birthed in freedom and built on slavery. Separating families? They separated black families in America for 250 years. What makes this feel so bad now is that we expect more. And that's a good thing. This pain is progress. But do not forget who we are and where we came from. I do not forget where I came from. I grew up in West Baltimore, around the corner from where Justice Marshall grew up. This Justice Marshall. He knew my father. He stood in my living room. The elementary school I went to, Mt. Royal, I went to because of him. I'm here because of him. He was the grandson of a slave, and he changed American law. He changed the very idea of the Constitution! He made a document that considered him three-fifths of a man a document of liberation. This is the America I know. A beacon and a curse. Light and darkness. Hope and despair. This is America right now. But America never ends.
That’s where For the People will surely lose open-minded viewers, if they haven’t already lost them in the implausibility that this one case would take up such a priority. And it likely only does have such high priority so that the left can make ICE into the boogeyman it so loves to do. What Jay, Tina, and all others like them miss is the difference between legal and illegal immigration. America welcomes immigrants, legally. But once again, a Shondaland production would rather dabble in leftist propaganda than truth and facts.