Things That Matter

Protests Against ICE Detention Centers Reached New Heights As Airplanes Typed Messages In The Sky Across The U.S.

A global pandemic is still gripping the United States – along with much of the world. But still many Americans headed outside over the long holiday weekend and, before the evening fireworks, were greeted by powerful anti-ICE messages written in the skies.

The skywriting campaign comes as much of the world’s attention is focused on Covid-19 and organizers hope to redirect some attention on the thousands of migrants who remain locked up in detention centers across the country.

Activists took to the skies at more than 80 sites across the country with a powerful message against U.S. immigration policy.

Over the July 4th weekend, two fleets of skytyping airplanes created artist-generated messages across the U.S. The fleet of aircraft targeted 80 different ICE detention facilities, immigration court houses, processing centers, and former internment camps. Written with water vapor, the messages are designed to be seen and read for miles.

Each message ended with #XMAP, which, when plugged into social media, directs users to an online interactive map that offers a view of the closest ICE facilities to the user.

Visitors to the event’s website are encouraged to donate to local funds like the Black Immigrant Bail Fund and join the #FreeThemAll campaign, which advocates for the release of detainees from crowded facilities, where social distancing is often impossible right now.

The ambitious project took a year to plan, and is one component of an artist-led protest against immigrant detention and America’s mass incarceration problem. With “In Plain Sight,” organizers are hoping to educate viewers—and to encourage the abolition of facilities such as these.

“I think the public is somewhat aware of what’s happening in detention centers—they’ve seen the images of kids in cages—but they don’t know the full scale,” said Cassils, in an interview with Quartz.

The team aimed to set a national record with its #XMAP campaign.

Credit: In Plain Sight

The artists reached out to the only skywriting company in the country (which owns the patent on skywriting) and learned that the largest campaign executed over U.S. soil involved about 80 sites and three fleets of planes. That established the project’s framework, and from there they went about the task of bringing on collaborators, many of whom have experiences with immigration and the detainment of oppressed minority groups.

The artists they tapped vary in age, gender identity, and nationality; some are formerly incarcerated, or are descended from the descendants of Holocaust survivors. Black, Japanese-American, First Nations and Indigenous perspectives are present, speaking to the historical intersections of xenophobia, migration, and incarceration.

The protests were seen throughout Southern California – from LA to San Diego.

Credit: In Plain Sight

In Southern California, the demonstration kicked off on the 4th of July at 9:30 a.m. above the Adelanto Detention Center, before traveling to downtown L.A., where 15-character messages will be left in the late morning airspace above immigration facilities, county and federal lockups and courthouses. The planes then traveled to the Arcadia and Pomona locations of internment camps where Japanese Americans where held prisoner during World War II.

Later in the afternoon, planes were seeing typing messages in the sky above the Terminal Island detention center, before traveling further south to Orange County and San Diego, where messages were left above courts and immigration offices.

The campaign also popped up in El Paso, TX, where a massacre last year left many Latinos dead.

Credit: In Plain Sight

Binational, El Paso-based artist Margarita Cabrera activated the El Paso-Juárez portion of the performance with her message “UPLIFT: NI UNX MAS” at the Bridge of the Americas.

“Uplift” refers to uplifting immigrant communities, as well as the border fence and other immigration detention facilities. “Ni unx más” was inspired by Mexican poet and activist Susana Chávez’s 1995 phrase “ni una muerta más,” or “not one more [woman] dead.” The phrase protests femicides in Mexico, particularly in Juárez. Cabrera used X to be gender-neutral. 

“This is a call to abolish this systematic violence and the incarceration and detention of our immigrants,” Cabrera told the El Paso Times. “We’re creating a sky activation, but we’re also grounding it with local events.”

Across the border in New Mexico, “ESTOY AQUI” and “SOBREVIVIRE” were respectively written over the Otero County Processing Center and Otero County Prison Facility. The messages draw from songs respectively by Shakira and Mexican pop star Monica Naranjo. Designed by artists Carlos Motta and Felipe Baeza, the full message, “I am here, I will survive,” is intended for both detainees and outside onlookers.

“We wanted to address those in the detention sites and acknowledge the fact that they are there, that we know they are there, and that they will be fine eventually even if their conditions are precarious and they are going through a difficult time right now,” Motta told the El Paso Times.

And in New York City, several major monuments became canvases for the activists’ message.

Credit: In Plain Sight

In New York City, the words “My pain is so big” were written over a detention center in downtown Brooklyn.

“To be human,” wappeared over Rikers Island and “Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia,” the name of the first immigrant to die from Covid-19 in detention was projected at the Statue of Liberty monument in Ellis Island.

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ICE Says They Rescued A Mother And Her Newborn But Then They Turned Around And Separated Them

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ICE Says They Rescued A Mother And Her Newborn But Then They Turned Around And Separated Them

Gloria DeValle / Getty Images

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency had recently released a story about how border agents had ‘rescued’ a woman and her newborn baby in the middle of the Texas desert. In their release, they detailed how the pair were provided with immediate medical treatment, however, they failed to mention that the mother was immediately separated from her newborn.

As the case gains more attention, immigration advocates and legal officials are coming forward with new details in the woman’s case and it’s helping to paint a very different picture from the one given by border officials.

New details are emerging after ICE said they had ‘rescued’ a woman in labor.

An entirely new picture is emerging regarding a story put out by ICE itself saying they had ‘rescued’ a woman in labor. However, ICE officials forgot to mention one very important detail – just hours after their supposed rescue – they separated the woman from her newborn baby and detained her pending her possible removal from the country.

According to the ICE press release, border agents responded to a 911 call and found the woman soon after she had delivered her baby alone in a field near Eagle Pass, Texas. Officials first transported the mother and child to a nearby hospital, then the baby was airlifted to a neonatal care unit hours from where the mother was being held in custody.

“They told her she was going to be sent back to Mexico without her baby,” according to Amy Maldonado, who is legally representing the mother, and spoke to the LA Times.

The mother and baby have since been reunited but a legal process is still playing out regarding their future.

It wasn’t until the LA Times published a story about what had happened that ICE released the mother from custody, and she was reunited with her baby in San Antonio.

According to Austin Skero, chief patrol agent for the Del Rio sector, who responded in a tweet to The Times, agents had to separate the mother and baby due to the San Antonio hospital’s COVID-19 policy for the neonatal unit, which the hospital immediately disputed.

Leni Kirkman, representative for University Hospital in San Antonio, told The Times in an interview the statements were not correct. 

“That is definitely not the hospital policy,” she said. “We do not separate babies and parents.”

Even during a surge in COVID-19 cases in Texas, “which fortunately we’re not in now,” she said, “the parents of NICU babies got to be with their baby. That was not something we backed off on. Babies need to be with their parents.”

Not surprisingly, ICE has a history of separating mothers from their newborn and nursing children.

Sadly, there are many stories of mothers being torn apart from their children – including those who still require breastfeeding.

Last year, following the ICE raids of processing plants in Mississippi, details emerged of a mother who picked up by ICE and unable to see her 4-month-old daughte, who she was still nursing – and who herself is a U.S. citizen.

Advocates also report that some asylum seekers in the Texas who have given birth in ICE custody were forced to hand over their newborns to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). Reuniting with their newborn hinges on their release from federal custody, and whether they can access legal help to navigate the child welfare system.

Last year, DFPS attempted to place a detained woman’s newborn in foster care. The woman “cried for 72 hours straight,” a Texas OB-GYN told Rewire.News. The OB-GYN held the woman at the hospital for five days so that she could see a psychologist.

“I was worried she was going to hurt herself when they took her back to the detention center,” the doctor said. “Luckily in her case, they were eventually able to locate an aunt-in-law, her uncle’s wife, who lived in Chicago. But this wasn’t a blood relative, and it wasn’t someone she’d ever met before.”

The mother of the newborn had attempted to seek asylum in the U.S. but was forced to stay in Mexico.

The mother picked up by ICE with her newborn, whose name has not been released, had recently applied for asylum at the border earlier this year with her older child, who is 6-years-old, but officials put them into the controversial “Remain In Mexico” program.

The Migrant Protection Protocols (or MPP) sent them back to Mexico to wait until their asylum hearing. Under MPP, tens of thousands of asylum seekers have been forced back to dangerous Mexican border towns to await hearings in the United States, some for more than a year. Citing the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration closed the U.S.-Mexico border in March to all nonessential travel and indefinitely postponed most MPP hearings. 

The American Civil Liberties Union has challenged the Homeland Security Department over its “treatment of pregnant people, or people in active labor, delivery, or post-delivery recuperation in CBP custody or subject to the MPP,” and called for an investigation into returning pregnant women to Mexico under MPP.

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Guatemala Shifted Tactics With The Latest Migrant Caravan And Here’s Why

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Guatemala Shifted Tactics With The Latest Migrant Caravan And Here’s Why

Jose Torres / Getty Images

The Coronavirus pandemic hasn’t reduced violence or poverty or many of the other reasons that people flee their homes in an attempt to reach the United States. In fact, in many places violence and poverty are at record levels as the virus leaves millions of people without work, access to medical care, or education.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that even though the Coronavirus pandemic continues to pose a serious health threat, thousands of Central Americans banded together in another caravan. However, this time it barely made it out of Honduras before being forced back by Guatemalan security forces.

The country has completely changed its approach to how it handles these ‘migrant caravans.’ Previously, the country had allowed many of them safe passage. However, under pressure from the Trump administration, the country’s president has decided a heavy-handed approach is better.

Under pressure from Donald Trump, Guatemala halted more than 3,000 migrants set for the U.S.

As a caravan containing roughly 3,500 Honduran migrants attempted to cross into Guatemala on their path to the United States, Guatemala halted their progress and ordered their removal from the country. This was a starch contrast to the migrant caravans of year past as many were allowed to seek asylum or even cross Guatemala’s border with Mexico.

In a televised message, Giammattei said Guatemalan security forces were able to “contain” the caravan, that according to the president was a factor in the transmission of the Coronavirus.

According to the Guatemalan Migration Institute (IGM), the caravan entered eastern Guatemala on Thursday, pushing over a military barrier setup along the border before splitting into groups to reach Mexico, which had already closed its borders in anticipation of the caravan’s arrival.

By Friday and Saturday, hundreds of Guatemalan police and military personnel set up roadblocks forcing migrants — including young children and people in wheelchairs — to turn back.

Guatemala’s president said the containment efforts were to protect the country from further Coronavirus infections.

Credit: Jose Torres / Getty Images

Shortly after the caravan entered Guatemala by foot and overwhelming the border security forces, the country’s president – Alejandro Giammattei – vowed to send them back to Honduras, citing his efforts to contain the pandemic.

“The order has been given to detain all those who entered illegally, and return them to the border of their country,” Giammattei said in a broadcast address to the nation. “We will not allow any foreigner who has used illegal means to enter the country, to think that they have the right to come and infect us and put us at serious risk.”

Giammattei issued an order that would suspend some constitutional rights in the provinces they were expected to pass through, apparently in order to facilitate detaining them.

“We are experiencing a pandemic in Guatemala which has cost us to control with months of efforts,” said the president, adding it was an “obligation” to reduce the risk of further contagion.

At the onset of the pandemic, Guatemala instituted a strict lockdown of the country, even closing its airports and borders to all travel. So far, the country of about 17 million has seen more than 94,000 Covid-19 infections and 3,293 people have died since March.

These so-called caravans have become more common in recent years as migrants band together for protection.

In recent years, thousands of Central American migrants traveling in large groups have crossed into Mexico, with the aim of reaching the U.S. border. In the U.S., these caravans have become a hot-button issue for political conservatives, including President Trump.

During the 2018 caravan that occurred close to the midterm elections, Trump threatened Mexico with steep tariffs and economic pain if the country didn’t do more to stop the caravans before they reached the U.S. – Mexico border. The country bowed to Trump’s demands and deployed its National Guard and more immigration agents to break up attempted caravans last year. They dispersed large groups of migrants attempting to travel together in southern Mexico.

The odds of a large migrant caravan reaching the U.S. border, already low, have grown increasingly slim over the past year. In fact, crossing into the U.S. legally is virtually impossible now thanks to inhumane policies implemented by the Trump administration. Meanwhile, attempting an unauthorized crossing into the U.S. is as difficult as ever.

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