Note: This interview is from February 2016. It is not an exact transcription as you are not allowed to bring recording devices into the Stewart Detention Center. We are not using Josephs real name to protect his identity. Joseph spent two years at the Stewart Detention Center and was deported in April 2016.
What are some of the hardest parts of being in Stewart?
Joseph: It would either be the way the guards abuse their authority and humiliate us by treating us like we aren’t even human or being separated from my daughters. At home, I was a family man. I would play dress up and have little tea parties with my daughters, but I can’t be like that here.
Do you ever feel isolated from society?
J: I mostly just feel isolated from my family. I have been here for a year and a half, and I have only gotten to see my daughters twice. For the first two months, they seemed to care about me; they wrote me letters and came to visit often, but since then, it feels like they have forgotten about me.
Do you think your treatment here is justified?
J: No, I have been put into segregation twice for very small, unjustified reasons. One time it was for a week, and the other time it was for just a few days. Segregation is basically solitary confinement. You are put into a small room, separate from everyone, with nothing but a bed, a small table, a toilet, and a sink. All they serve us is potatoes. Sometimes we get baked chicken, and sometimes we get hamburgers, but they aren’t the kind of hamburgers you would eat, they are the pre-made kind. Sometimes the meat is undercooked. The food is always undercooked or burnt. Also, there have been flies and maggots in the food. People come to inspect it here, but it always passes. Everything gets covered up. I work for about $1 and a half hours a day, and I get paid 1 dollar a day. The people in the kitchen get paid $4 a day, but they are working 8 to 10 hours.
How did you come to the US?
J: I was born in Mexico. I came here when I was 4 months old. I have lived here my whole life. This is my home. Growing up, I actually thought I was a US citizen. I have some family in Mexico, but I don’t remember anything about Mexico. If I was deported, everything would be completely new. I don’t know anything about Mexico. I would have to completely start over.
How do you think your life would have been different if you were white?
J: My life would have been completely different. I was arrested for a suspended license. I served my time in jail, and I was going to be released, but they saw I had a Latino last name, and they looked into my immigration status, and then they brought me here. If I hadn’t had a Latino last name, they would have never looked into my immigration status.
Was there anything different about the jail you went to for the suspended license and the Stewart detention center?
J: No, things are a little less quick and orderly here, and the beds are less comfortable, but they are really the same.
Do you feel like people generalize all undocumented immigrants?
J: Yes, very much so. People have told me, “You are a menace to society.” People have told me that I am a criminal, without knowing anything about who I really am. Sure, there are immigrants who commit crimes, but there are also plenty of white US citizens who commit criminals, and you aren’t going to hear people call all of them “illegals.” When people say they want to deport all “illegal aliens,” they don’t see us as individuals. They don’t see us for anything more than our immigration status. They don’t see us as people.
Source for image used above: Deal, Raoul. migrationnow.com