Location: Ajo, AZ, United States
The photographs from my project “El Sueno Americano / The American Dream” depict the personal effects and belongings of people apprehended in the desert by U.S. Border Patrol agents that were seized as they were processed at a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol processing facility in southern Arizona where I was employed from July 2003 through August 2014.
It was during my fourth year of working there as a janitor that I asked for permission to retrieve from the trash the cans of food carried by migrants and those seeking asylum, and bring these to our local food bank. When I started collecting the food, I saw what was also being thrown out by border agents: personal items such as rosaries, bibles, wallets, toothbrushes, shoes, clothing, belts, and family photos belonging to the migrants.
These confiscations struck me as wrong. The cruelty of stripping away such personal items from vulnerable people is dehumanizing for both those whose belongings are taken from them and those who enforce this unjust policy. But being a janitor, I was in no position to speak up – I would have been fired. For the next seven years, I continued to empty the trash and discreetly save whatever personal item I could.
It took several years to find a way to photograph these belongings that showed both my respect for those who carried them across the desert and my outrage at this arbitrary and inhumane practice. I hope that this work encourages people to connect with their own sense of decency and advocate for the better treatment of immigrants and those seeking asylum in this country.
Collective or Agency REDUX Pictures