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
“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
“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.
Never-Ending Nightmares Exposed
“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
“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
“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
“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.
Confusion and Fear Plaguing Children
“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
“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
“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.
Abuse of Power Fills Frames
“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
“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.