1. Art

80 Artists Expose Abuses In U.S. Detention Centers By Using Skywriting

A massive art project called In Plain Sight has hired virtually every skywriting plane in the nation to spell out artist-generated messages in the sky above detention facilities, immigration courts, borders, sites of former internment camps, and other historically significant landmarks all across America. Spearheaded by visual and performance artists Cassils and rafa esparza in collaboration with 80 others, the project will involve artists from a vast array of ages, gender presentations and experiences who will focus on migrant detention and the culture of incarceration. The messages written in the sky with water vapor, will be visible for miles. According to the artists, “The goal of this project is to make visible what is too often unseen and unspoken on the ground: the appalling, profoundly immoral imprisonment of immigrants.”

Alarming Reports

The art project was triggered by alarming reports of the unacceptable conditions immigrants in custody are facing. These include: overcrowded cells without sufficient physical room for individuals to sleep; toilets being used as drinking fountains; and lack of access to showers for extended periods. According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics, in the 2019 fiscal year, over 850,000 people were apprehended and taken into custody by border patrol agents. Over the course of that year many were released, while others were deported. The key point was, however, that at any given moment, over 50,000 migrants were detained.  An important related issue was the separation of families. The American Civil Liberties Union reported that according to their October 24th, 2019 calculation, more than 5,400 children had been separated from their families at the Mexico border since July 2017. A special concern of the artists at this time is that this migrant community does not have adequate protection from the COVID-19 pandemic and lacks basic supplies including soap, disinfectant and face masks.

Civil Rights Complaint Lodged

In an effort to alleviate some of these problems, on May 8th, 2020 the American Immigration Council announced that it, along with some other immigration groups, filed a civil rights complaint to protect individuals in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities during the corona virus pandemic. The complaint called on oversight agencies to demand immediate action by ICE to help stop the spread of the corona virus where social distancing is not possible, by taking certain spelled out protective measures

The complaint was based on the firsthand accounts of 17 people the Council had encountered in ICE detention facilities throughout the country. It was filed with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL).

Covid-19 A Problem

According to a recent New York Times
article, “as of May 28, about 2,600 of ICE’s detainees have been tested, and more than half have been positive. A detainee in a California facility with an outbreak died in the first week of May; days later, another man died in Ohio, weeks after his release from ICE detention, where he appears to have been exposed. Two guards in an immigrant-detention center in Louisiana died in late April.” In response to these outbreaks, immigrants in at least a dozen ICE facilities have announced protests and strikes.”

In Plain Sight aims to both amplify the voices of those on the inside and serve as an megaphone for partner organizations that directly serve the immigrant community to speak up for their members. The partner organizations include The Haitian Bridge Alliance, the ACLU of Southern California, Detention Watch Network, MIJENTE, and a host of others.

80 Artists Involved

Among the 80 artists involved in the project seeking progressive social change are Dread Scott, who creates participatory art focused on African Americans; Emory Douglas, former Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party; Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter; trans activist Zackary Drucker; Asian-American curator and writer Karen Ishizuka; Colombian artist Carlos Motta; and many others. Award winning social justice documentarian PJ Raval and producer Farihah Zaman have signed on to produce an episodic film series that will delve into the project’s themes of migration, identity and belonging. Many of the artists are themselves immigrant, first generation, and/or undocumented.

Public Invited To Join In

In Plain Site invites the public to join the #FreeThemAll campaign, a response to the growing public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic; to support the National Immigration Detention Bond Fund, enabling individuals to focus their efforts on winning their immigration cases; and, for those eligible in the U.S., to vote.

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