New Superstore season continues anti-ICE narrative


Emma Seely, Managing Editor

The fifth season premiere of the NBC comedy “Superstore” aired on Thursday, Sept 26. After an uncharacteristically dramatic season four finale, the new season picks off exactly where its predecessor left off. In the middle of a traditionally silly workplace comedy, “Superstore” writers explore a topical and emotionally loaded topic: ICE and the workplace raids that take away friends, family members, and television characters. 


As UNO Political Science professor and department chair, Dr. Christine Day explains, ICE, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is one of three agencies within the United States Department of Homeland Security that deal with immigration policy. While the other two agencies are focused more on naturalization, the process in which non-US citizens are granted US citizenship, or protecting US borders, ICE is the agency that “handles enforcement of immigration policy within the country.”


This means that ICE is responsible for finding and detaining undocumented persons living on US soil. On “Superstore” this undocumented person is Mateo, a sometimes problematic but ultimately lovable employee in the fictional Cloud 9 Superstore. On the show, as is often the case in real life, his capture by ICE agents at his place of work was shown to be emotionally charged and traumatic, with fellow employees trying and failing to save him from the agents. 


According to Day, ICE has been a functioning agency within Homeland Security since its creation in response to the terrorist attack on 9/11. But today, ICE draws more controversy than ever thanks to new Trump-era policies that make the agency more visible, and more divisive. 


“[There are] some more high profile policies, like detaining children for indefinite amounts of time, and then deportation, especially the Trump administration’s request for fast track deportations of people who live here,” Day says.


These policies, Day notes, are often enforced against people who entered the country legally, but who have let their visas expire. Because of this, cases such as the one shown on “Superstore” often involve people who have lived in the US for their entire lives. 


“In some cases, you see a lot of anecdotes about people who have lived here a long time, not necessarily legally,” Day says. “ They either overstayed their visas, or they were allowed to come in as refugees or asylees and didn’t report. For various reasons, [they are] here undocumented, but have been here for many years, have jobs, have families. You know, some of those heart-wrenching stories of children being, as they say, caged, either with their parents or without their parents, when apprehended at the border. And those are policies that are enforced by ICE.”


Regardless of its viewers’ previous knowledge of these ICE policies, “Superstore” provides another one of the powerful anecdotes that Day discusses. When asked about the potential influence of Mateo’s story, and the way that narratives such as this one can sway public opinion, Day references a Stalin quote that says: “One death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic.”


“People respond, emotionally, to particular stories, especially involving sympathetic characters,” Day says, “more than we would probably respond emotionally to a story about hundreds of thousands, or millions of immigrants being deported.”


“Superstore” will continue to share this narrative throughout the season, with new episodes airing Thursdays at 7 pm on NBC. The possible political effects of presenting Mateo’s story remain to be seen but have the potential to be significant. 


“If this character is a sympathetic character and his co-workers like him and then ICE descends and arrests him, then he can have an impact on people’s views of the policy. Absolutely.”