Art display calls attention to detained immigrants

  • Glen Ring adjusts one of the signs in the middle of the 60 small cardboard people art display in front of the State House on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Some of the 60 small cardboard people that populated the sidewalk in front of the State House in Concord on Tuesday in an art display to represent the immigrants being detained at Strafford County Jail.

Monitor staff
Published: 6/23/2020 4:31:44 PM

Sixty small cardboard people populated the sidewalk in front of the State House in Concord Tuesday afternoon representing the immigrants being detained by federal authorities at Strafford County Jail. 

Titled “Don’t Look Away,” the art display was put on by immigrants’ rights group Never Again Action N.H. The two-foot-tall figures were clad in shirts printed with messages including “I am not a criminal,” “I am a husband” and “I need protection from COVID-19.” The group’s goal is to have all 60 immigrants held at the jail released.  

Strafford Country Jail has a contract with the Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement and is holding the detainees some of whom have been charged with no crime other than being in the county illegally. 

Never Again Action organizer Tess George called the practice “unfair and un-American.” 

“The vast majority of these people left their home countries because they’re running from crime and violence, and they’re asking us for safety,” George said. “They’re detained on very high bail without having created any kind of a threat to the community.” 

Now, George said, the immigrants arrested by ICE are presented with the threat of COVID-19 if they continue to be held in jail, where it is nearly impossible to maintain social distancing measures. Never Again Action, which partnered with the Kent Street Coalition for the art display event, supports the ACLU’s position on stopping ICE from transferring detainees to jail during the pandemic. Two detainees have tested positive for coronavirus at Strafford County Jail. 

The primary purpose of the display, George said, was to “humanize” the issue of detaining immigrants. 

“These are people with varied stories: some are young people hoping to become a doctor or a photographer or a nurse, some are fathers and mothers,” she said. The cardboard people “visually represent that these are people just like you and me.” 

“If we can show the scale of something, hopefully it will get stuck in people’s minds,” said Glen Ring, a member of Never Again Action and the Kent Street Coalition. 

Eva Castillo, director of the New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, said that the display ties together issues that “should not be separated,” including racism, immigration and family unification. Though the display could help raise awareness, she said, it is just a “band-aid” on the larger wound of injustice from the immigration system that is “just going to keep reopening.”

Never Again Action has also been holding weekly “car rallies” at Strafford County Jail to show support for detainees and call for their release, according to Ring. She said that between 35 and 70 cars have showed up every Sunday since early April to drive around the perimeter of the jail. 

Never Again Action and the ACLU have filed a class-action lawsuit in an attempt to get the detainees released for good. Since the suit was filed, 19 of the detainees have been released. 

Tuesday’s display of cardboard people will go back up at noon on July 3 in the same location and will be accompanied by a musical performance and a press conference. 

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