Project Coordinators Melissa Mundt and Laura Bellous highlighted some of the stories that they collected while putting together Letters to a Detainee: Immigration Detention in Arizona. The multimedia project seeks to raise awareness about the effects of detention on individuals, families and communities through recording detainees' perspectives for a radio documentary and book publication.
According to the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project data of ICE bed space and clients served: on any given day in Arizona approximately 3,000 people are in immigration detention. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently estimated 72,000 immigrants were detained in Arizona in 2007, and that number has surely grown since then. This number excludes those who are held in Border Patrol or county custody or those who are being transported between facilities or deported. The more alarming figure is that over the last 20 years numbers of immigrant detainees in Arizona has increased by more than 5 times. Nationally, this adds up to over 280,000 people detained per year, triple the number just a decade ago. The increasing emphasis on detention and its effects on individuals, families and communities is often buried within the divisive public debate about immigration enforcement and border security.
Immigrants in detention in Arizona are often unable to afford costly phone cards, are far away from their families, linguistically isolated, confused about legal proceedings, and desperate for answers and hope.Art, reading, writing and letters become essential survival strategies, coping mechanisms, and forms of communication. Frequently, letters are vital for families to maintain contact and important for legal cases. Letters to a Detainee asks Arizonans who have experiences with immigration detention to share their own letters, stories, art and testimony as a way to deepen public discussion about the immigrant experience.