UArizona helps launch archive sharing stories of detained immigrants

Sketch of detention center cell

Sketch of a cell in an immigration detention center by a detained individual.

Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project

A group of University of Arizona faculty members and their community partners are preparing to launch a public archive containing the stories of asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants incarcerated in Arizona.

The DETAINED: Voices from the Migrant Incarceration System project is a collaborative effort involving UArizona, the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project and Salvavision. The Florence Project provides free legal and social services to individuals in immigration detention in Arizona. Salvavision is a Tucson-based organization that provides aid and support to asylum-seekers and migrants displaced in the remote town of Sasabe, in Sonora, Mexico.

The DETAINED archive will be available online Wednesday, and a launch event will be held that night at the Blacklidge Community Collective. The collective, located at 101 E. Ventura St., is a community space that hosts a variety of local projects, events and resources. The event will include stations where people can listen to archived interviews, as well as digital projections of art and memorabilia collected from former detainees.

The archive grew out professor of art David Taylor's decades-long focus on the nature and changing circumstances of the borderlands – an interest he developed after moving from the East Coast and thinking about the tropes that make up society's conception of Western history. A photographer, Taylor said any story he told would not be that of a person who personally crossed the border or someone seeking asylum or work. Instead, he strives to let those people tell their own stories.

"My goal in all of this is to ensure that people's experiences do not disappear. These are people who don't get to write history. They don't usually have their say," Taylor said.

Taylor worked alongside professor of English Susan Briante, author and translator Francisco Cantú, School of Information graduate student Aems Emswiler, College of Law alumnus David Blanco, former UArizona associate professor Anita Huizar Hernández and staff from the Florence Project to interview a dozen former detainees of the detention centers in Florence and Eloy. Those interviews were recorded, transcribed and translated for the archive. The team also collected images of artwork and memorabilia provided by detainees.


Sketch of a detention center common area by a detained individual

Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project

Cantú, who works alongside Briante as co-coordinator of the Southwest Field Studies in Writing Program for the UArizona Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing, said detention facilities are the most underreported and least understood facet of border enforcement. A general lack of public awareness creates a need to tell the stories of directly impacted individuals, Cantú said.

"These are places that are very rarely infiltrated and seen, and it's very hard for stories to come out of these spaces," he said. "We want people to realize this is happening right now on the scale that it is. The archive has a real pulse, a heartbeat."

A Digital Borderlands Grant of nearly $60,000 was awarded for the establishment of the DETAINED archive. The three-year, $750,000 Digital Borderlands project was funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. University of Arizona Libraries disburses those funds to projects that "support the integration of library services into data-intensive, humanities-focused research on the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands."

"The Mellon grant has been really enormous just to get this project going, and our partnership with the Florence Project is fundamental to this work," Briante said. "Now, we are committed to seeing it continue."

Those interested in attending the Wednesday launch event for the DETAINED archive can RSVP online.

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