Samantha Bee Takes on Immigration "Cruelty" in 'Full Frontal' Holiday Special

A portion of the proceeds from the "Christmas on I.C.E." special benefits an organization providing aid to the immigrant children and adults separated under the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy.
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for TBS

Samantha Bee didn’t waste any time getting to the heart of what Full Frontal’s holiday special, “Christmas on I.C.E.,” was about while addressing the audience at the two-hour taping on Monday. “The world is dark, but tonight we are going to bukakee it with joy,” the TBS host said. “Your hearts are going to swell with good will towards your fellow humans if it is the last f---ing thing I do.”

Bee transformed New York's PlayStation Theater into a winter wonderland, complete with a real ice rink, "Abolish I.C.E." skaters and commentary from Olympian and U.S. national figure skating champion Adam Rippon. The special, which aired Wednesday at 10:30 p.m., in a nutshell, is "the only guide to fighting the excesses of Immigration and Customs Enforcement that’s also an ice show," Bee said.

"We’ve covered I.C.E. before on the show, so we didn’t have to look too hard for what we wanted to talk about in the special," Bee told The Hollywood Reporter. "The story of the migrant children and family separations is something that captivated us and got our attention. And we’ve never forgotten it. We’ve never let it go from our minds. It’s not like we can do every episode of the show about it, but this is a good way to end the year — to remind people about the situation and to raise money."

A portion of the proceeds from merchandise — like t-shirts that read "Reunited We Stand" — and ticket sales benefit KIND’s (Kids in Need of Defense) Family Separation Response Team

Bee also teamed up with El Refugio, an organization that works with detained immigrants and their families. One of Wednesday's segments saw Bee travel to one of the country's largest immigration detention centers in the remote town of Lumpkin, Georgia. 

"I was grateful to have the opportunity to be there, just to put eyeballs on something like this. I think it made me understand the trajectory of the episode, the show and the situation on the ground," Bee said. "It was powerful. It was quite something."

According to Bee, Stewart Detention Center's remoteness not only makes it difficult for immigrants to access legal counsel, but also for their families to visit. 

“You can’t directly say that it’s on purpose but it seems very intentional to keep people away from what grounds them; taking people away from whatever resources they have to keep them in a state of limbo where their attorneys can’t get to them, their families can’t get to them," she told THR, citing a particular instance she witnessed while in Lumpkin: a mom; two, two-year old twins and a baby who traveled 11 hours to visit their husband and father. 

"It's just impossible," Bee said.

For years, the only local lodging available was a tiny rental house operated by El Refugio. Families often piled in, sleeping on bunk beds, futons and air mattresses, all while sharing the house's one bathroom. While in Lumpkin, Bee's Full Frontal ended up donating a six-bedroom house to the organization. 

"It made me feel very grateful that we had the opportunity to be helping," she said.

Right around the time Bee and the Full Frontal team were filming these segments, news broke that Border Patrol agents had tear-gassed asylum seekers — including children — at the border. "So it was quite a moment to be working on this," Bee said.

At Monday's taping, Bee expressed worries that "we have lost our compassion."

“I think it’s totally fair to think that immigration needs reform," she told THR. "But I don’t think that our inability to get immigration reform should result in this, operating at this level of cruelty. It’s not right.”

Bee obviously doesn't expect to fix everything with Wednesday's special, but she does think "we should all be very aware and attuned to the misery and the cruelty with which our administration is approaching this problem."

For Rippon, it's things exactly like "Christmas on I.C.E." that seem to be a viable way to "bridge a lot of gaps."

"With people talking about a caravan of migrants, and all of this stuff making it trying to seem scary, [Bee's] able to put a face to the name," he told THR. "You’re able to put yourself in that situation and think, ‘Wow, I don’t know what it would be like to have nothing and just risk it all.' "

Rippon said he's a fan of Bee's, but the subject of the special also inspired him to get involved. 

"I think because I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world and speak to so many different people that I feel like I almost have this responsibility to use my voice and speak out," Rippon said. "I do that with my whole heart because it’s so important and I think so many people are afraid of what they don’t know right now."

Rippon and Bee provided commentary as the "Abolish I.C.E. skaters" and Bee's husband, Jason Jones, acted out ways to fight back against I.C.E.

Patton Oswalt, Jeff Goldblum, Jon Stewart, Brooke Shields, Molly Ringwald, Ana Gasteyer and other stars made appearances throughout the show's pre-recorded skits.