DENVER | The immigrant detention center in north Aurora has attracted massive protests, national media attention, transparency efforts from lawmakers, and now an art exhibit that aims to tell the stories of immigrant families.
The Redline Contemporary Art Center, located just less than 10 miles from the GEO Group Inc.-owned facility, is currently hosting a public art installation focused around the lives that are disrupted by the prison. “Familias Separadas” by visual artist Michelle Angela Ortiz was unveiled June 18 and will be on display through the end of August.
The exhibit, which consists of three 20-foot tall portraits installed on the outer walls of the center that portray local immigration activists, is in conjunction with other public art installations in North Carolina and New Hampshire that also detail how detention and deportation affect U.S. immigrants.
“The series of large-scale site specific public art installations visualizes the testimonials of community members that have experienced detention, are in sanctuary or have experienced family separation or deportation,” leaders of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition said in a news release about the exhibit.
Each site was chosen because of its proximity to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency detention center.
At Redline, Ortiz painted portraits of Jeanette Vizguerra, Ingrid Encalada Latorre and Ginny Calderon, three women who have been personally affected by the detention and deportation system and become local activists.
Vizguerra, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico and mother of four, is the founder of immigrant rights organization Sanctuary For All. In February 2017 Vizguerra took sanctuary at the First Unitarian Society of Denver to avoid a deportation order. She spent 86 days at the church before being granted a two-year stay of deportation. She reentered sanctuary in 2019. She was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2017 by Time Magazine.
Ingrid Encalada, an undocumented immigrant from Peru, came to the U.S. at age 17 where she had three children. She spent time in sanctuary at Mountain View Friends Meeting in Denver and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder. In 2019 she was pardoned by Gov. Jared Polis for felony charges related to a stolen Social Security number she had purchased in order to work.
Ginny Calderon’s husband was detained at the Aurora Detention Center and deported three years ago, according to the art center. She is now raising their two children by herself along with advocating for undocumented families.
As of June 23, 747 people were housed in the privately-run detention center, according to an accountability report from Congressman Jason Crow’s office. Medical care inside the facility has been a repeat source of criticism, which has intensified during the pandemic. Since March of 2020, at least 545 people in the facility have tested positive for COVID-19.
In her story on the website, Calderon said that her husband was turned over to ICE custody when he appeared at a probation hearing, and spent over a year in the Aurora detention center. While there, she said that he developed a tooth infection and was denied medical care.
Raising her children alone was very difficult, she said. Until she started sharing her story, “I felt like no one could understand what was happening in my house,” Calderon said in Spanish.
The presence of GEO and other facilities like it throughout the country “highlight that our unjust immigration policies do not begin at the border, they spread throughout our nation,” the release said.
Each piece of artwork has a QR code viewers can scan to to read and hear firsthand stories from the participants and learn about ways to take action, the release said. The stories can also be listened to online at familiasseparadas.com.
Sanctuary for All and the Colorado Immigrants Right Coalition partnered with Redline to bring the exhibit to fruition. Funding came from the Art for Justice Fund and the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation.
IF YOU GO
Redline Contemporary Art Center
2350 Arapahoe St. in Denver
Open 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday
Admission is a suggested donation of $5 for adults, $3 for students and youth