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Museum of Culture and Environment

College of the Sciences

Liberty Denied: Immigration, Detention, Deportation

Exhibition at the Museum of Culture and Environment, September 21-December 12, 2016

As the United States debates immigration policy, a vast system of immigration detention and deportation has emerged across the nation, outside of the knowledge of most Americans. Economic forces, such as free trade agreements that have bankrupted small farmers, and drug gangs that endanger the lives of those who do not cooperate, force people to emigrate. Since numerous obstacles make legal migration almost impossible, they cross the border without papers. As a result of their undocumented status, immigrant workers are frequently forced to live in unsafe conditions, suffer abuse on the job, or not even paid.

When Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) identify undocumented immigrants, often as a result of a minor traffic violation or racial profiling, they put them in detention. Over 30,000 immigrants are detained in 200 detention centers nationwide. With over 1500 beds, the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, run by the for-profit GEO Corporation under a contract with ICE, is one of the largest in the country. The detainees live in inhumane and illegal conditions with no privacy, poor health care, and terrible food. They are forced to do the work of the center for 1$ a day.

Since lack of documentation is a civil offense, detainees have none of the rights provided by our criminal justice system.  Their only option is to attain “relief” through pro bono lawyers such as those at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. A judge decides the case, without a jury. Many of the cases drag on for months and years. Deportees are taken to buses often in the middle of the night and returned to countries in which they have often never lived or left many years ago, leaving behind families in the US.  
The artists in this exhibition explore some of these experiences.  Blanca Santander speaks of the jolting cultural adjustments of immigration, but celebrates the strength of women who survive it. Carino del Rosario reveals the ironies of passports as a means of identification. Cecilia  Alvarez represents the suffering of families separated by detention and deportation. Tatiana Garmendia, originally from Cuba, describes her own family’s experience of torture in detention, sewn painfully into a blanket.  Art  Hazelwood and Doug Minkler pointedly depict some of the larger economic and political forces in their dramatic posters. Well-known cartoonists Jen Sorenson tells the story of immigrant activist Danilo Lopez and Daniel P. Mendez-Moore outlines the hypocrisy of public policy.    

Three works were originally commissioned by the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian-Pacific Experience in Seattle as the old Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) building in Seattle was vacated for the new facility in Tacoma. Dean Wong’s haunting photographs document the empty, eerie building. Robb Kunz provides brief segments from interviews with immigrants about their experiences. Christian French gives us the “INS Game,” the arbitrary process of acquiring legal status, still embedded in the floor of the INS building, here adapted as a card game.

Finally Eroyn Franklin, in a fold out book format, follows the lives of two detainees in detail, Many Uch, in the old INS building, and Gabriella Cubillos (Gabi) in the Northwest Detention Center, both during their detention and after their release.

Susan Noyes Platt

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