Detainee Allies is a grassroots organization created by neighbors who felt the need to take action on the injustices they were seeing being done to people trying to immigrate to the U.S. They began locally, realizing that they were only twenty miles away from one of the most controversial borders, the San Diego and Tijuana border. Near the border was the Otay Mesa Detention Center. They chose to write letters to people being detained in Otay Mesa and received responses from people who were grateful to hear that someone outside the detention center was thinking about them. The letters quickly started flooding in and expanded to other detention centers. The content in these letters encouraged them to take a stance against the inhuman treatment of people in detention centers. They denounce the criminalization of asylum seekers and refugees that are put behind bars once they arrived in the United States and the disrespect of basic human rights. This non-profit uses letters to reach out to people in detention centers. They communicate directly with them and allow them to share their story in order to create accurate narratives available for the public. They are putting the human at the center of their mission.

We have been working with them for ten weeks now. We decided to help them to communicate their message through our project to raise awareness and bring more people onboard. We wanted to highlight the refugee voices but before doing that we needed to present the organization for our audience to understand their actions and values. Thus, for our project, we created two videos. The first one is presenting this grassroot organization through images of monday meetings, letters and an interview with Joanna. The second video is aimed to be the first one of a series. It is a poetic reading of one letter. We picked a letter written by a Mexican mother detained. These videos are made for Detainee Allies’ social media. We really wanted to promote their actions through a video as it is the medium we found the more compelling.

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Video 1: Introduction to Detainee Allies

After speaking with Joanna, Jennifer and Kate, the three leads and co-founders of Detainee Allies, they pretty much gave us free rein for our video projects. We did research on their website and found that it lacked a section that explicitly explained who is Detainee Allies and what exactly they are trying to achieve. We decided this was a great direction to head in for one of our videos. We created a video that depicted how Detainee Allies was formed, what their purpose is, what they do and who is involved. We did this by interviewing one of the Co-founders of the organization about the mission of Detainee Allies. We filmed a short interview with Jennifer and captured her voice describing the desire in wanting to help and how they eventually got to writing letters. We took images of the border to represent how the organization got started in the first place. We also took images from the Monday meetings to show the behind the scenes of this work. During these meetings, letters are opened, read, sent, and detainees are sent money from funds that are raised by the organization. All of this is done at the dinner table of a Detainee Allies’ home. We felt it was important to show all these aspects in order to show that this organization is a grassroots startup by ordinary people who just wanted to do something to help those who have been put in detention centers.

Video 2: Letter From a Detained Mexican Mother

The second video is the first of a series of videos that we hope will follow this one. In this video, a letter from a mother who is being detained is read aloud. This is only one of the many letters that Detainee Allies receives. The reading of the letter is paired with images from the San Diego and Tijuana border. We used portions of the letter that would encapsulate the tone and message of the original letter. In this letter we learn a lot about a mother who fled her country as a means of survival, to escape an abusive relationship. She raised her daughter in San Diego and lived here for years. This letter shows clear desperation from a mother, who has been separated from her daughter because she is being detained. Unfortunately, family separation is a common theme that is seen in many of the letters Detainee Allies receives, as well as the desperation and plea for help that is seen in this letter.

We chose a letter that was written in Spanish because a large portion of these letters is written in languages other than English. Spanish is one of the more commonly seen languages that people in the detention centers write. We translated the letter into English and provided English subtitles in order to make the video more accessible to a broader audience. The intention behind this video and this series all together is to amplify the voices of these people who are being detained. We hope to make them visible as human beings and give them the complex personhood that is not offered to them in the common immigrant narrative.