The violence endured by detained immigrants in holding cells has been widespread news and yet little has been made to improve the conditions. Known as hieleras, these holding cells have been the source of cruel treatment for immigrant families who first encounter these ICE boxes when coming to America.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deportations and imprisonments reached record high numbers and in the midst of the continuing mistreatment, the nonprofit Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) launched a campaign calling for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and ICE to shut down.
RAICES, Texas’ largest legal aid group serving migrants, created an art exhibit, #AbolishICEBox, featured at South by Southwest (SXSW) festival this weekend, which draws thousands of people to Austin. The 8-by-20-foot converted storage pod kept at -10 degrees Fahrenheit, plays an audio story of a client who endured time in the ICE box and includes a sculpture of a dead migrant. The art exhibit also features a mural that reads “Asylum is a Human Right,” designed by artists Jerry Silguero and Yocelyn Riojas.
There is also a chain-link fence representing the barriers keeping immigrants from being able to seek asylum, and viewers are invited to write messages on yellow bandanas. According to RAICES, the fence is located in front of the mural as a metaphor representing the border wall that keeps migrants from attaining the American Dream.
“The Hielera is a snapshot of our immigration system, a look into the modern-day detention centers that the country is operating across the southern border, with little transparency or accountability,” Erika Andiola, Chief of Advocacy at RAICES said.
In the past two years, 22 immigrants have died in detention centers, according to an NBC News analysis of 188 detainee deaths since 2003, when the Department of Homeland Security was formed.
This figure does not include the recent deaths of Guatemalan children Jakelin Caal Maquin, 7, and Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, 8, who came from Guatemala and died in December. It also doesn’t include 20-month old girl, Mariee Juárez, who died in March, nearly two months after she was held at an ICE family detention center in Texas with her mother.
“This exhibit honors our community, while also challenging the way we’re treated. It speaks to the role that immigration plays in making America what it is. As an artist, my work seeks to equip those fighting the deportation machine with imagery as powerful as the testimonies we hear from those who have experienced our immigration system when seeking asylum,” Riojas said.
The exhibition is located at 308 Guadalupe St. in Austin, Texas and will be open on March 15 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on March 16 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.