Humanistic new documentary shows life in immigration detention

ONE The gripping new documentary, “The Facility” follows the lives of immigrants detained in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities across Georgia from March to November 2020 as They fight to protect themselves from COVID-19, as well as their dignity before the US law.

Most of the documentaries are filmed remotely, via a video conferencing app, giving viewers a rare and deeply human glimpse into everyday life inside the detention centers. ICE. The film mainly focuses on the story of two immigrants, Nilson Barahona-Marriaga and Andrea Manrique, who use acts of civil disobedience, such as hunger strikes, to fight for their release from detention and protection from COVID-19.

Directed by Seth Freed Wessler, currently an investigative reporter at ProPublica, has been reported for over a decade on the criminal justice and immigration system of the United States. His work has appeared in New York Times Magazine, Reveal, This American Life and others. Wessler made the film to chronicle the lives of those navigating immigration detention during a pandemic, and in doing so exposed glaring flaws in ICE-operated health systems. .

The film, which was partially filmed inside the Irwin County Detention Center, an ICE facility in Ocilla, Georgia, made headlines in 2020 after a nurse who worked there alleged that a gynecologist performed it. unwanted or unnecessary procedures on women without their full consent. She accused doctors of performing unwanted hysterectomies on detained immigrant women. In May, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would closed the center. A federal investigation and a class action lawsuit happenning.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You started filming your documentary before the Irwin County Detention Center hit the headlines last year. What initially attracted you to that establishment?

I have been in contact with people in prisons and ICE detention centers everywhere, but I developed a few sources inside the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia for unique stories. I started making calls using this video calling app to people I connected with at the Irwin County Detention Center to try to figure out what was going on there as the pandemic spread.

What started to become clear to me when I made calls through this video app was how I was also observing the inside of the place. I mean, I’ll sit on a call with one of the people I’ve built a source relationship with and will start to recognize people walking in the background or will notice that at certain times of the day , certain TV shows playing on the screen above their heads, or would notice that at certain times of the day I would hear prayers, people singing, holding like a church. And that’s what pushed me to do something like a visual story, to try to help the viewer who walks into the place to be able to understand what it was like, what it could be like, when detained inside the United States Immigration Service. and Customs Enforcement detention centers.

I write about immigration often and watch this film with great excitement because so many such establishments exist in very remote parts of the country and journalists have barely any access to them.

These are places — detention centers and prisons in general — that are not allowed to be seen. That is their purpose, to keep people locked inside and keep people outside away from those people. I’ve been to the town where the Irwin County Detention Center is located as a reporter for many years, and I’ve never been in it. I think what this video calling app did was open up the possibility, to some extent, to step inside without actually being there.

Before that, most of your work was writing — news and magazine articles. Why tell this story through video?

I felt that a written story would not convey what I was going through visually. I’ve spent hundreds of hours on video calls, reporting on what’s going on in ICE custody with the two central characters in the film, Nilson and Andrea, as well as with many others, and the result is everything. thing happened. I sat there [watching] when guards enter a cell, and in some cases, those guards will walk in without a mask. And that’s an important thing to keep in mind as a reporter, and the visual medium makes it possible for you to understand what it looks like. There were these televisions on the walls of the prison and I was just struck by what was appearing on those television screens. I mean, in many ways, it’s like what I would see if I turned on the television in my apartment. But, you know, there’s a kind of dissonance that emerges between images of happy people, product ads or political campaign ads that proclaim a vision of the American dream, or a kind of full-blown idea. longing for America inside a detention center where people were actually suffering pretty horribly.

One of the themes throughout the film is about how immigrants are treated like criminals. Why are we putting immigrants in these prison-like facilities when they haven’t actually been convicted but are waiting for their immigration cases to be decided? Did you purposely raise that question?

Yes. The detention of ICE in a variety of special ways, in most cases, persons detained by [ICE] detained at the discretion of ICE itself. ICE doesn’t actually have to detain nearly anyone it does in immigration detention. ICE detention, at least as a legal matter, is not considered punishment for committing a crime. Rather than Civil detention camps are used to hold people while they wait for a trial. There are many alternatives to detaining people who are going through these processes.

What’s really striking when I talk to people in ICE custody is that people don’t know — as was the case with Nilson and Andrea — they don’t know at all if they’re going to be released. So what we have, effectively, is a detention system that can be indefinite and can also feel completely arbitrary because some people are incarcerated and others are not. And it’s a kind of system that’s intimidating to anyone who holds it.

So then came the nationwide breaking news about the gynecologist at the Irwin County Detention Center. The film features this quote from Andrea, who says that “something catastrophic happened to bring attention to us.” How did that news and its consequences affect the people in your story?

The allegations are painful and terrible [and] gives more news than I think ICE has ever been in custody — or at least over a decade of my reporting on this system. And on the one hand, that makes a lot of sense. On the other hand, those incarcerated inside Irwin know that various types of medical neglect actually make it difficult to get medical care and, in some cases, Deadly medical neglect, is routine in the context of ICE detention.

I think there is a feeling [among detainees] like, listen, we’ve been trying to blow the whistle about different kinds of horrifying experiences inside these places for a long time. Why bring up this particular type of accusation to get people to start paying attention?

Can you give us an update on your main audience, Nilson and Andrea? How are they now?

Both Nilson and Andrea were released from ICE custody and in many ways are both – and I think they will say this too – trying to heal from the experience. What happened to each of them inside that place created harm that didn’t just disappear when they walked out the door. In both of their cases, the experience of being incarcerated triggered them to become organizers. So both are trying to figure out how to advocate for the rights of detainees.

Nilson is pursuing a green card, which he will almost certainly get through his wife, a US citizen. He’ll most likely become a US citizen within a certain number of years and that’s always possible, and that’s one of the things that makes him feel incarcerated in a certain way, it’s absurd. He spent nearly a year locked up in an ICE detention center.

Andrea is fighting in a US court for asylum. It will be a long and lengthy process. She is living with her husband in the US and trying to move on with her life.

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