Things That Matter

Letters of Detained Immigrants are Getting Mass Exposure by Becoming Works of Art

What happens when art, activism, and letters of detained immigrants collide? A stunning and emotionally-packed art series depicting the deplorable conditions of US detention centers. Taking inspiration from the detainees’s letters, artists created these:

The Pain Heartbreaking Goodbye

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Credit: Gabrielle Tesfaye / Visions from the Inside / Tumblr

“Melisa I hope that you get out of there soon, don’t worry and don’t lose faith that God will make it up to you, always pray to Him that He give you strength to continue moving forward.”Excerpt from the letter.

Note from the artist: “I found [the author’s faith was] really powerful and, unknowing of what their specific religious views are, I found it important to include something in the sketch representative of faith, hope, beauty, strength and a higher divine purpose throughout the ordeals of the struggles of life.”

The anonymous letter was written by a teenage girl thank her friend for her friendship while in the detention center. The author was deported to El Salvador with her family and about 36 other families.

Suffocating Desperation in Young Faces

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Credit: Dolly Li / Visions from the Inside / Tumblr

“I dream of getting out of this place…to be able to study one day…to have a better future for my life.”Excerpt from the letter.

Note from the artist: “I wanted to evoke the sensations of feeling trapped and suffocated to show that immigration detention is not a humane place for anyone to exist in, let alone a child.”

Jackeline, the author of the letter, was held in the detention center with her mother and young sisters, waiting to learn their faith in the system.

READ: These Latinos Break Down Immigration AND Make it Funny

Never-Ending Nightmares Exposed

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Credit: Jess X Chen / Visions from the Inside / Tumblr

“I am trusting my God who will quickly end this nightmare.” – Excerpt from the letter.

Note from the artist: “For as long as she lives, the Honduran mother, and millions others, reach for each other and form constellations in the night despite the borders, detainments, and abuse of the US.”

The author attempted to cross the border twice. The second time, she tried to bring her youngest son, 12, from Honduras after gangs approached the boy to join and killed his friend in front of him.

Dehumanizing Treatments of Refugees

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Credit: Chucha Marquez / Visions from the Inside / Tumblr

“For most people who have entered this place, it’s the start of a new life, but it begins badly, because this Detention Center—that they call a shelter for immigrants—but only those of us who live here know it’s really a jail.”Excerpt from the letter.

Note from the artist: “Butterflies migrate and their migration is beautiful, they’re not restricted by physical borders. When humans restrict the beauty and nature of human migration it brings pain and trauma.”

Rebeca Paulina’s letter exposed the struggles and inhumanity of the detention centers from undercooked food, criminalization for migrating, and the lack of appropriate medical attention for babies. Paulina writes that it takes a baby having a fever of 104 before the doctors will give the child medicine, otherwise they recommend the steam from a hot bath.

Suicide Attempts Caught on Canvas

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Credit: Favianna Rodriguez / Visions from the Inside / Tumblr

“I am afraid that if I stay in this center something could happen to me or my daughter because the ICE tries to cover up everything and all news that happen here.”Excerpt from the letter.

Note from the artist: “The women detained in Karnes County Detention Center have endured physical abuse, rape by prison guards, and the constant sicknesses of their children.”

The letter, written by Polyane Soares de Oliveira from Brazil, talks of rapes, being denied medical treatment and the fear controlling the detainees. The text on the image comes from a suicide note from Lilian Oliva, 19 and a mother who was discovered in a center bathroom with slit wrists. She survived the attempted suicide and was later deported back to Honduras with her child.

Faith in God Translated into Illustrations

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Credit: Julio Salgado / Visions from the Inside / Tumblr

“I am desperate, I don’t like the food anymore, and I don’t want to be here. My son’s first birthday was here. I would like to get out of here.”Excerpt from the letter.

Note from the artist: “We cannot be okay with the thought that a mother has to celebrate their child’s birthday behind bars. ”

The author, who’s name was redacted, has been in the detention center for a year with her child.

READ: UndocuQueer Activists Changing the Immigration Debate

Confusion and Fear Plaguing Children

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Credit: Robert Trujillo / Visions from the Inside / Tumblr

“It bothers me to not even know when we’ll get out of here, although I have hope we’ll be freed. God willing we’ll get asylum.”Excerpt from the letter.

Note from the artist: “I think the part of the letter that hit me most is the idea of not being able to control what is happening, not knowing when they will be able to leave, and the cramped feeling of all of these conditions on top of each other.”

Miguel, who is just 10 years old, is forced to grow up in what he calls a prison and is living in uncertainty about whether or not his family will ever be free.

Life Tormented with Death Threats and Violence

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Credit: Micah Bazant / Visions from the Inside / Tumblr

“I cannot return to Guatemala. I am an orphan, and my husband was murdered. I was also threatened, that I would be killed together with my daughter.”Excerpt from the letter.

Note from the artist: “When I imagined what I wished for this mother and her child, I imagined a mighty waterfall breaking through the prison walls.”

An anonymous mother talks about her fears of being sent back to Guatemala because she does not speak Spanish, rather she speaks an indigenous language. The water she and her daughter are being forced to drink has bleach in it and the commissary prices are so high, she can’t afford clean water.

Deception and Hopelessness Brought to the Forefront

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Credit: Rose Jaffe / Visions from the Inside / Tumblr

“Our great fear is that they will deport us without giving us any notice and without us having any communication with our families or lawyer; because in this center they have already deported many families that have already spent so much time incarcerated.”Excerpt from the letter.

Note from the artist: “I want the audience to capture the journey this family has gone through…and then the juxtaposition of the ‘hopes’ for a safe haven versus the reality of the situation.”

Estela Marquez Marquez, 34, and her three daughters, 15, 14, and 11, live terrified of the guards and staff knowing that the abuse and sexual violence committed inside the detention center is being covered up.

READ: Latino, Gay, and Undocumented in the Rural South

Abuse of Power Fills Frames

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Credit: Zeke Peña / Visions from the Inside / Tumblr

“I know that the way we came [to the United States] is illegal, but the only reason [for coming to the United States] is because I am very scared to go back to my country.” – Excerpt from the letter.

Note from the artist: “I think I’d like viewers to feel a simple level of human connection to this woman’s struggle.”

The mother, 24, and her son, 10, have been in the detention waiting for freedom. They only came to the US to seek freedom and safety, something they are being denied.

Suffering of Children Stares at You

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Credit: Mata Ruda / Visions from the Inside / Tumblr

“We were 5 days in La Hielera, terribly cold, sleeping on the floor of cold cement, we would cover ourselves with aluminum paper, the federales would count us every 2 or 3 hours, would get us up and the sleeping children to go outside and they would strike the door hard with their clubs and they would discriminate against us, they would say that we were dirty, that we had no reason to come here to this country.” – Excerpt from the letter.

Note from the artist: “I wanted to create a simple composition that focuses on the strength, selflessness, hope, and love of a mother who is enduring tortuous conditions because of a lack of a piece of paper.”

Sonia Elizabeth Hernandez Amaya is 33 and a mother of three children ages 10, 9, and 3. Her letter depicts the treatment of detainees and the conditions of the hold facilities they were passed through before arriving at Karnes Detention Center.

You can see the full project hereVisions from the Inside is a collaborative art project created by CultureStrike, Mariposas Sin Fronteras, and End Family Detention.

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With Immigration Fees Set To Increase, Advocacy Groups Are Hosting “Citizenship Weeks” To Help People Get Their Documents In On Time

Things That Matter

With Immigration Fees Set To Increase, Advocacy Groups Are Hosting “Citizenship Weeks” To Help People Get Their Documents In On Time

Damen Wood / Getty Images

Becoming a U.S. resident or citizen has never been an easy process. The country’s immigration system is a convoluted mess that sharply leans in favor of high-wealth individuals and under the Trump administration that is becoming more apparent than ever.

But 2020 has been an especially challenging year for immigrants seeking to complete their citizenship process.

Although it’s common for interest in naturalization to spike in the months leading up to presidential elections, the Coronavirus pandemic forced the citizenship process to a grinding halt in March. The outbreak shut offices of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) all across the country. And although many of these offices reopened in July, there is a widening backlog of applications.

Meanwhile, on October 2, looming fee increases could leave applications and citizenship out of reach for tens of thousands of immigrants, as the process becomes significantly more costly.

Many migrant advocacy groups are hosting events meant to help immigrants complete their applications before prices are set to rise.

In South Florida, the Office of New Americans (ONA) — a public-private partnership between Miami-Dade County and non-profit legal service providers — launched its second Miami Citizenship Week on Sept. 11. This 10-day event is designed to help immigrants with free legal support so participants can beat the October 2 deadline.

In addition, the event will host a mix of celebrations meant to highlight the social and economic contributions of South Florida’s large immigrant communities.

“I think in Miami we talk about how we are diverse and how we are adjacent to Latin America, but we never take a moment to celebrate immigrants and the amazing work that they do whether it’s the nurses in our hospitals, the drivers that drive our buses, small business owners,” said Krystina François, ONA’s executive director. “We need to reclaim the narrative around immigrants and around our communities because it’s what makes us great.”

However, thanks to Covid-19 restrictions, the events will all be hosted online.

Much like any other event, Covid-19 has greatly impacted this year’s “Citizenship Week.” Therefore, the event will be hosted virtually. That includes the Mega Citizenship Clinic, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 16-20. At the event, pro-bono lawyers from the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Americans for Immigrant Justice and other groups will connect with attendees one-on-one on Zoom and walk them through the process of filling out the 20-page citizenship application form. 

The clinic is open to immigrants eligible to become naturalized citizens, meaning permanent residents who have had a green card for at least five years.

Cities like Dallas are also getting in on similar events, meant to welcome new residents and citizens into the city.

Dallas’ Office of Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs is hosting a series of virtual events from Sept. 12 to Sept. 20 in honor of Welcoming Week. The virtual events aim to promote Dallas’ diverse communities and to unite all residents, including immigrants and refugees.

According to the City of Dallas, this year’s theme is Creating Home Together, and it emphasizes the importance of coming together as a community to build a more inclusive city for everyone.

Participants will be able to learn about the voting process and what will be on the next ballot during the “Vontando Por Mi Familia: Enterate para que vas a votar” event. The event, hosted in partnership with Mi Familia, will be presented in Spanish.

A Council Member, Jaime Resendez, will host a virtual program on Tuesday at 11 a.m. that celebrates Latinx art and culture. The event will celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. Mayor Eric Johnson will read the Welcoming Week Proclamation, and the event will feature art exhibitions and performances showcasing the talents of performers and artists across Dallas.

Attendees will also have a chance to learn more about the availability of DACA and a citizenship workshop will take place where articipants will learn how to complete their N-400 application for citizenship. Volunteer immigration attorneys and accredited representatives from the Department of Justice will be there for assistance.

The events come as fees for several immigration proceedings are set to rise by dramatic amounts come October 1.

Starting on October 2, the financial barrier will grow even taller for many immigrants as fees are set to increase. The fee to apply for U.S. citizenship will increase from $640 to $1,160 if filed online, or $ 1,170 in paper filing, a more than 80% increase in cost. 

“In the middle of an economic downturn, an increase of $520 is a really big amount,” François told the Miami-Herald.

Aside from the fee increase, many non-citizen immigrants never truly felt the need to become citizens. That was until the Coronavirus pandemic hit and had many questioning their status in the country.

“There are people who up until this COVID crisis, their status as a permanent resident didn’t impact their day-to-day life … but then the pandemic has given them another reason of why it’s important to take that extra step and become a citizen, because of the additional rights and protections that are afforded to you, but also to just have a sense of security and stability in a crisis.”

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This 11-Year-Old Read A Heartbreaking Letter To Trump About Her Mom Being Deported And It’s A Must Watch

Things That Matter

This 11-Year-Old Read A Heartbreaking Letter To Trump About Her Mom Being Deported And It’s A Must Watch

Democratic National Convention / Getty Images

If you aren’t a political junkie who has tuned in to watch every last minute of the Democratic National Convention this week, there’s a lot that was totally fine for you to have missed. It’s had its share of tacky, dull moments and plenty of self-congratulating.

But, last night, there was a moment that everyone should take two minutes to watch. The moment featured an 11-year-old girl with a story so similar and familiar to so many Latinos across the country. The girl, whose mother was deported to Mexico in 2018, helps us all put a face and a very articulate voice to a daily tragedy that we should never stop thinking about: the separation of children from their parents due to harsh U.S. immigration policies.

Estela Juárez stole the spotlight with a powerful letter to Donald Trump about her mother’s deportation.

Eleven-year old Estela Juarez was undoubtedly the star at last night’s Democratic National Convention. As the daughter of an undocumented immigrant who was deported in 2018, she read an emotional letter directly to Donald Trump decrying his hurtful and inhumane immigration policies.

“My mom is my best friend,” Juarez said in a letter she read aloud, addressed to Donald Trump. “She came to America as a teenager over 20 years ago, without papers, in search of a better life. She married my dad, who served our country as a marine in South America, Africa, and Iraq. My mom worked hard and paid taxes, and the Obama administration told her she could stay.”

“Mr. President, my mom is the wife of a proud American Marine, and the mother of two American children,” Estela Juarez said. “We are American families. We need a president who will bring people together, not tear them apart.”

In her statement, she added that her father, a naturalized American citizen who immigrated from Mexico, had voted for Trump in 2016 with the expectation that Trump would protect military families, but would not vote for him in 2020. The video featured footage of Trump stating that he did not want immigrants in the U.S. and that they are “not people.” It also included news coverage of the families being separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“My dad thought you would protect military families, so he voted for you in 2016, Mr. President,” she said, addressing Trump. “He says he won’t vote for you again after what you did to our family. Instead of protecting us, you tore our world apart.”

The Juárez family gained national attention when her mother was deported because of her father’s service to the country.

Credit: Alejandra Juarez / Facebook

In 2018, the Florida family gained national attention after Immigration and Customs Enforcement confiscated Alejandra’s passport and pressured her to self-deport to Mexico. Estela described how her mother was able to live in the country during the Obama administration.

The family’s case was widely publicized because of her husband Temo Juarez’s military status. She also was one of the subjects of the Selena Gomez-produced Netflix documentary series Living Undocumented.

Another family who Trump has terrorized with his immigration policies also spoke last night.

Another family who has been hurt by Trump’s immigration policies also took the state last night. Silvia Sanchez and her daughters, Jessica and Lucy, spoke about their journey to the U.S. and how Trump’s policies have made them fearful for their futures.

Silvia shared her story of crossing the border without documents after doctors in her hometown said that they would not be able to care for Jessica, who has spina bifida, a birth defect that affects the spine.

“I took my baby in my arms and traveled for days to the border,” said Silvia, in Spanish. “When we got to the river, I raised her above the water and we crossed.”

While Lucy is a citizen and Jessica is a Dreamer, Silvia is still undocumented. The three explained how Trump’s policies have brought back fears the family will be separated and that Jessica will be unable to get health care because she does not have the right ID to get insurance through an exchange. “We work hard. We make ends meet. We pay taxes,” said Silvia.

These emotional, human-centered issue montages dominated the opening 30 minutes of the Democratic National Convention’s third night. A segment on gun control concluded with an address from former Rep. Gabby Giffords, while a climate change segment included scientists who resigned from the administration. But the issue where it was apparent Democrats have come the furthest in four years was immigration—the policy area that might be least hospitable to abstractions after four years of Donald Trump.

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