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New Project with @EndIsolation: “Detention Stories – Life Inside California’s New Angel Island”

August 13, 2014

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Audio Recordings Document Abuse in Immigration Detention

LOS ANGELES – Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) releases seven audio recordings and videos, featuring the voices of people in immigration detention across California.  As video and audio recording generally is not allowed in immigration detention facilities, people in immigration detention requested that CIVIC record their voices to share with a larger audience online.  Through these telephone conversations, CIVIC documented arbitrary use of solitary confinement, sexual assault, physical abuse by ICE officers, prolonged detention, retaliatory transfers, and other aspects of life inside immigration detention.

“I caught one of the officers kissing one of the detainees in the R&D (receiving and departure) room, cause there’s no cameras, there’s no audio. It’s like a black spot in the prison. She (the detention officer) was like scared because they said that if I would open my mouth, she will make sure they would deport me,” explains Victoria Villalba and Yordy Cancino, who were detained at the Otay Detention Center in California.

“ICE officers used their hands to push the hands on my mouth. Told me to shut up. I cannot breathe even. I almost died,” explains Yu Wang, who has been deported to China.Sylvester Owino was close to obtaining a bond hearing under Rodriguez v. Robbins, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that immigrants who have been locked up six months or longer in California have a right to a bond hearing to determine whether or not they should continue to be detained.  “Most of us that were fighting our cases were moved to Alabama where we cannot have those kinds of hearings,” says Sylvester Owino.  Owino remains in detention today in Alabama, after spending eight years in immigration detention without a bond hearing.

“Every time that you have something else or something different that you could do to distract your mind, the officers always come and take your options to be free,” says Marcela Castro, who was detained at the James Musick Facility for over six months while seeking asylum. “They don’t let you to be a human being or to think.  They don’t let you to be yourself.”

The videos are part of CIVIC’s multimedia project, “Detention Stories: Life Inside California’s New Angel Island.”  Through a grant from Cal Humanities and in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities, CIVIC explored the social and cultural world inside California’s immigration detention centers through the stories men and women in immigration detention share.  While this project was not focused on advocacy, we learned how harmful the daily grinding life of detention is for human beings, and how these extraordinary (although quite common) circumstances of abuse occur too often in secrecy.

“The stories people in immigration detention share in these clips are shocking,” said Christina Fialho, co-executive director of CIVIC.  “It is no wonder that our federal government does not generally allow audio or video recording devices in immigration detention.  If the federal government refuses to be transparent about detention practices, it is our duty to provide people in detention with a platform to tell their stories.”While the United States debates the large-scale legalization of undocumented immigrants, the issue of adult immigration detention is rarely discussed.  More importantly, the voices of immigrants in detention have not been a part of the discussions. Equality demands that people in detention have a voice in policy discussions affecting their daily lives.

“People in detention can be their own advocates and take steps to make their voices heard,” said Will Coley, the Technical Director for the project and founder of Aquifer Media. “We’re only facilitating that with current technology.”

In addition to these films, CIVIC launched a reporting platform for immigrants detained across the globe to share their stories.  To date, no comparable project has documented adult immigration detention stories in a systematic way.  Over the next few years, CIVIC will be working with people in detention, their families, and NGOs across the globe to create a larger audio/visual map of the global immigration detention landscape through the stories people in immigration detention desire to share.

“Although their bodies may be locked up,” said Fialho, “their voices remain free.”

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CIVIC is a national nonprofit working to end the isolation and abuse of people in immigration detention through visitation, storytelling, detention monitoring, and other targeted campaigns.  You can learn more at www.endisolation.org.

Detention Stories: Life Inside California’s New Angel Island was made possible with support from Cal Humanities, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Cal Humanities or NEH. Experience more at www.calhum.org.

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