Inside the moving truck, a woman’s voice recalls her time working with migrant parents who had been forcibly separated from their children at the El Paso Service Processing Center.
“I am haunted by how cut off these people were — from their children, from their home countries and from the outside world,” she said in the 2019 audio interview. Each day of her drive to the facility, she said, she passed “blue skies and deep green grass, sparkling blue ponds and the tan of sand traps.”
“Then I turned in, and it was dust and camo uniforms and guns, and the smoke gray of one-way mirrors, and the white shiny paint that reflected the fluorescent light where I was locked in the interview rooms with these desperate parents.”
El Pasoans may drive by immigrant detention centers every day, but a new traveling pop-up photo and audio exhibition offers a window inside their walls.
In 2017, documentary photographer Greg Constantine began traveling the country to photograph 70 detention centers and the often isolated landscape surrounding them. He spoke with former detainees, immigration attorneys and visitation program volunteers, resulting in roughly 150 hours of interviews.
The results of his five-year effort appear inside a 26-foot-long moving truck that houses “Seven Doors,” a bilingual pop-up exhibition on display today, Friday, at Abara House (formerly the Hacienda Restaurant) and this weekend at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, a local nonprofit that offers legal services to migrants. The project is intended to capture the impact of U.S. immigration detention on individuals, families and communities.
Enter through the back of the truck, and to the right you’ll see images of protests outside detention centers; a stark shot of a center’s phone and videoconferencing equipment; and an ankle monitor squeezing a skinny calf, the slight bulge of skin around the strap showing just how tightly it’s fastened.
Constantine hopes the truck will become a “portal” for attendees to better understand the scope and scale of U.S. immigration detention on individuals, families and communities.
“I don’t think many people in the United States have any idea what immigration detention looks like,” he said. That’s not surprising to Constantine, who spent nearly two decades documenting human rights abuses around the world. “Systems of oppression or injustice are often vague or formless” in the public imagination, he said.
The left side of the truck is Constantine’s attempt to create that shape and form. He has positioned each landscape shot of a detention center as it would appear on a map of the United States, beginning with facilities located in California and traveling eastward toward the front of the truck. Each image comes with an audio clip of an anonymous individual recounting their experience with that particular center. The images and stories exist alongside statistics showing the number of people detained in that facility annually since 2018.
While El Pasoans may have an idea of how immigration detention works on the border, that understanding doesn’t always extend to the country’s interior — to a complex public-private network of county jails, prisons, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities that exist in every U.S. state and territory. As of April, there are 19,000 people in ICE custody, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
“I think it’s really important for people to know that immigration detention doesn’t just stop with the border in El Paso, or the border of Texas,” Constantine said. “What happens to people in detention in Texas filters in one way or another into how people are detained in Michigan, or Ohio or Indiana.”
“This project isn’t just visually and story-driven by the border; it’s what’s happening all across the country,” he added.
For El Pasoans “who know what’s happening along the border,” he said, “I hope that this project opens up a little bit of window to them to see what happens in other places around the country that are affected by what happens here on the border.”
Constantine and his partner drove to El Paso from the Pacific Northwest, where they recently hosted similar pop-ups, with the exhibition materials packed inside their Outback. They rented the moving truck in El Paso and swiftly built up the exhibition using magnets, thumbtacks and duct tape. He isn’t sure where they’ll go next.
Abara House at the Historic Hacienda, 1720 W. Paisano Drive
Las Americas, 1500 E. Yandell Drive
10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.