As The Infiltrators begins, we are plunged into night vision and follow a car along a border wall. “Everyone needs a plan,” we are told. People cross this border all the time; some may have a plan, others may not. But it seems that the Border Patrol catch up with them at some point either way.
The Infiltrators is a semi-documentary focusing on the limbo of Broward detention centre, where illegal immigrants are held before being either deported or allowed to stay. A group of young adults have come up with a plan. These “Dreamers” (their name taken from the Dream Act) purposely become detained in order to assist those already inside. They are generally the children of undocumented parents and, having been through school, find themselves in a precarious situation – they have no legal status and can be removed at any time.
Marco and Viri enter the centre and make friends with a cast of characters all held for different reasons and different lengths of time. Some have been there two years. The film switches between documentary footage of the Dreamers organising and agitating and fictional scenes shot inside the detention centre. The fictional parts take on a Great Escape style as ingenious methods are devised to pass documents in and out, avoiding the bullying guards, and the detainees try not to be sent into solitary. The documentary section interviews family members of the detainees and follows the Dreamers as they try to get in or get others out.
This partiality is a weakness. The film is clearly propaganda, in a good way, meant to provoke and agitate for the cause. However, the documentary portion is too thin and the fictional portion too fat. We learn very little about the facts of the case: on what legal grounds persons are detained or released; how they lived their lives as undocumented immigrants; what happens once they leave. One or two people are released, though we don’t learn why; other individuals are forgotten about and we never learn their fate. On the other hand there is rather a lot of home footage of Dreamers checking their phones and chatting. What is really at stake is never fully communicated.
It’s hard not to think that a straightforward investigative documentary would have been more satisfying. The for-profit detention centre is levelled as the bad guy, but with little justification onscreen. Surely there is more to be said about the politics of profiting or more to be divulged about the conditions of such a place.
This angry, heartfelt film leaves a lot of questions left unanswered. In its documentary footage it offers one or two truly touching glimpses of people caught in a horrible situation. If not teaching us anything, it at least stirs our sympathy. One inmate observes when surreptitiously handing out helpline phone numbers: “One is better than none.” The Infiltrators might not communicate enough, but it’s better than nothing.
The Infiltrators is released digitally on demand on 1st May 2020.
Watch the trailer for The Infiltrators here: