I begin to tell her it’s my last time and I likely won’t see her again. As I finish my sentence, tears fill her eyes and I reach out for her hand, trying to provide comfort, but what more can I really do? I spent my summer working with groups centered around migrants and the detention centers in which many are held. All summer, I visited five detainees in the Eloy Detention Center almost weekly, and that was the reaction of one of the women when I told her this would be my very last visit.
Two months ago I was eager for my summer — and this week brings bittersweet goodbyes because I feel there’s more to do. Working with the Casa Mariposa Detention Visitation Program, I made long-lasting friendships with detainees and community members that believe immigration detention systems are unjust. Every week I was appalled at the conditions in which immigrants are held. These detention centers are located in the middle of nowhere, making the drive from Tucson a little over an hour. I would wake up at 5:30am to make it by 7:30am and stay as late as 12:30pm because the guards would take their time to bring out the detainees to the visitation room. I could only bring paper and a pen, having to exchange my ID for a visitor’s badge. It became a weekly routine. I would go in, wait with a couple of other members of the visitation program, go in, and finally see my friends.
Every time I went to Eloy, I couldn’t help but wonder about why these centers exist. Then I went to a Know Your Rights Workshop for Parents, held by the visitation program and it made sense. A congressional mandate states that a minimum of 34,000 bed spaces must be filled by immigrants. The quota has since decreased, but prevents those who pose no harm from being free and fighting their cases from the outside. Our representatives are reinforcing criminalization of migration and we are doing little to change it. In addition, I recently found out that the county jail where Sandra Bland died, close to my hometown, did not meet regulations. However, ICE just approved it to hold immigrants. Why is it that a county jail determined not fit, is fit enough for immigrants? Time after time, less value is placed on immigrants.
Coming home and hearing about the tragedy in San Antonio with likely over 100 immigrants being transported in a trailer made the issues with our immigration system even more visible.
Going to Eloy every week made me feel guilty. I could go in and talk to individuals, but at the end, I walked out. I could forget for a couple of days. They, on the other hand, had breakfast at 4 or 5 am, had to wait all day without food if they visited the doctor, and are paid a dollar a day for all work. It is disheartening that people in prison are treated better than immigrants in detention centers. One women I visit with commented that she felt depressed and went to the psychologist, only to be placed in solitary for three days. Instead of providing the correct emotional support, they are sent to solitary confinement, which only breaks people. I only found comfort knowing that at least my visit brightened their days and brought distraction and laughter.
Alongside my work with the visitation program, I worked with Casa Mariposa, which provides a home to individuals after detention. It was a welcoming environment full of different personalities, all willing to share their stories. They made me feel at home, providing me with lunch and teaching me about their cultures. The house was always a place I could work without the stress of a work environment. I got to help around the house, did food bank runs for the house and families they support, and provide assistance as needed. I truly saw its importance in individuals’ transition once released, but also in allowing others to leave detention. Immigration judges require address support letters to give out bonds and let individuals be free. The house provided this support for many house members, so it was hard to hear they would lose the house as of September. The house is an integral part in helping individuals deal with the immigration-detention industrial complex.
It was truly an immersive experience, working with communities here, living in the BorderLinks dorms, staying with our home-stays for some time and commuting like a local.
Because of this situation, I worked alongside Mariposas Sin Fronteras (MSF) to fundraise for a new house. Mariposas Sin Fronteras is an organization of LGBTQ+ individuals impacted by the immigration detention system. It was interesting to work with MSF, as it was in the process of becoming incorporated to be a non-profit. I got to experience what it is like to work with local people and community organizers to reach the missions of the groups. We held solidarity dinners, used as fundraisers. These solidarity dinners were sponsored by community partners and groups who believe in their work and know how crucial it is to have a house. The dinners brought together many locals, all who found out about them through different channels, but came for one reason: to support MSF and Casa Mariposa.
Before coming to Arizona, I knew very little about the conditions migrants endured — and all I knew was from the experiences of my parents and other family members. I learned that migration was different in Arizona and how militarization of the border forces migrants through dangerous zones of the desert. Casa Mariposas welcomed me in, allowed me to do varying types of work and got me to really see Tucson groups and communities come together.
In my two months in Tucson I got to experience what it’s like to live here. I have lived here enough and been in so many places, and community spaces that I could get around without having to search an address. It was truly an immersive experience, working with communities here, living in the BorderLinks dorms, staying with our home-stays for some time and commuting like a local. Arizona taught me a lot about immigration, our current systems but most importantly it showed me that we are all humans. We all want better futures for ourselves and our families. And lastly, we all deserve basic human rights and dignity, whether we are citizens, residents or migrants. Thank you Tucson, it’s been a good summer!