Detention Nation exhibit pleads for justice for immigrants

Denver’s Museo de las Americas unveiled its latest art installation, Detention Nation, at an open house Thursday night. The exhibit features works from Sin Huellas, a Texas/Mexico art collective, and seeks to show visitors the harsh realities of U.S. immigration detention facilities.

Housed in white rooms with high ceilings, the exhibit is separated from the rest of the museum by a tall, chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. There are security cameras and intermittent alarms.

Inside, a few bunk beds and floor mattresses belie the crowded conditions detainees often face. Indigo bedsheets with stark white silhouettes show bodies with arms outstretched, or huddled, or clutching children.

Atop the mattresses are haunting figures sculpted from mylar, a nod to the silver emergency blankets border patrol gives to those it captures.

Next to these figures, the things they carry: a Bible, a rosary, a pacifier.

Detention Nation, which will remain on display until May, puts a spotlight on what many consider to be an inhumane immigration policy: Each day, thousands of people are detained — and treated like criminals — for the act of crossing a political line.

The walls display letters from previous detainees, who describe their frustration. “Detainee Name is suppose (sic) to be el nombre del detenido not nombre del delincuente,” says one, protesting a form’s incorrect translation. Detenido means detained. Delincuente means criminal.

On Monday this week, the eve of Obama’s final budget announcement, dozens of activists, immigrants and community members gathered outside a detention facility in Aurora to protest the federally mandated detention bed quota.

Passed in 2009, the mandate requires that all detention facilities nationwide fill every bed, every night. That means 34,000 people are kept locked up each day, many for acts like speeding or driving without proof of insurance. The facility in Aurora is tasked with filling each of its 525 beds.

Plenty of people argue that the detention system is necessary to ensure deportations, and some urge even stricter enforcement. But immigration rights activists say detaining people based on an arbitrary quota is unconscionable.

Also unconscionable, they say, is that the majority of detention facilities are privately owned and operated. The GEO Group, which owns the Aurora facility and is the second largest for-profit prison operator in the U.S., doubled the number of facilities it operates after the quota was passed. Its net income in 2011 was more than $70 million.

Related: Feds call off pricey Lakewood immigrant children’s shelter

The effects of the quota-based, for-profit detention system sink in when one considers the Museo de las Americas’ latest challenge. The current exhibit is open through spring, which is high season for field trips. Korrine Salas Young, the museum’s education coordinator, is always looking to improve young visitors’ experiences, but this installation has made her particularly reflective.

Past exhibits, she says, have always focused on artists, or on social movements of the past.

When school children from the Denver area visit Detention Nation, there’s a good chance many of them will be revisiting an experience they’ve already lived.

Detention Nation runs through May 27 at the Museo de las Americas.

Photo credit: Kelsey Ray


  1. These are not “refugees” or “migrants”. They are INVADERS from the most violent totalitarian theocratic mass rape / murder cult the world has ever seen. Pushing totalitarian Sharia which is openly hostile to the Bill of Rights.

    Saudi (capitol of global Islam) routinely beheads teenagers for the “crime” of freedom of speech, executes homosexuals, crucify’s women, and stones teen age girls for the “crime” of being gang raped.

    Anyone aiding and / or abetting Islam is guilty of treason Article III, Section III.

  2. Mr. King, the “invaders” that you so describe are displaced people caused directly or indirectly by war, violence, limited resources, trade, and foreign policy. It is our duty as people of faith or none, to care for one another. Let me remind you that the United States was once populated by indigenous people and they themselves were displaced by white Europeans. Your disrespectful remarks about the people of Islam are not welcome and we are in solidarity with all displaced people seeking to find a safe home. I welcome all displaced people and I would dare say that our collective Sin Huellas does also.

    Here is some information from you can read or not, my true intent is to share public information with others who are willing to show love and support for our displaced communities.

    Instead of violent jihad, true Islam champions a bloodless intellectual “jihad of the pen” (part of one’s perennial jihad to acquire knowledge) to engage in dialogue regarding matters of faith, without any compulsion. The Holy Prophet Muhammad’ssa life illustrates this belief. When he became the de facto ruler of Mecca, he forgave his former persecutors on the singular condition that they respect freedom of religion for all faiths—paganism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

    In fact, the Holy Quran’s first revealed verses demonstrate that the jihad of the pen is the only way to propagate Islam: “Convey thou in the name of thy Lord Who created, Who created man from a clot of blood. Convey! And thy Lord is most generous, who taught man by the pen” (96:2-5). The Holy Prophet Muhammadsa has reported to have said: “The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr.”

    Therefore, true Islam advocates non-violent jihad as a fundamental tenet.

    3. believes in the Equality education and empowerment of Women
    4. advocates Freedom of conscience, religion and Speech
    5. advocates for the Separation of Mosque and state
    6. believes in Loyalty to your Country of residence
    7. encompasses the Universal declaration of Human Rights
    8. believes in All Verses of the Qur’an and forbids lying
    9. recognizes No Religion can Monopolize salvation
    10. believes in the Need for unified Muslim Leadership
    11. wholly Rejects the concept of a Bloody Messiah

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