IF WALLS COULD SPEAK is a brief glimpse into the besieged hopes and blunt uncertainties – but also the enduring dignity – of Central American asylum seekers forced into a cruel and dangerous waiting game: the victims of Trump’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy. I hope this series reflects some of what the families you see within have been through – the unthinkable trauma some have experienced and the impossible decisions they’ve had to make. I hope that viewers here in the United States can begin to understand the odysseys many have undertaken to provide a brighter future for themselves and their children – only to be called rapists, criminals, and terrorists by a fear-mongering president and sent back to one of the most dangerous places to be a refugee.
I shot many of these portraits while visiting the Casa del Migrante, a Catholic-run migrant shelter in Juárez which houses a very small portion of the 20,000 asylum seekers returned to Mexico under the Trump’s policy that took effect in January of 2019. Nestled along a dusty dead-end street deep within the sprawl of Juárez, the Casa Del Migrante provides food, shelter, healthcare, and other services to migrants in need. The scenes within – friends chatting; kids laughing; three meals a day – stand in stark contrast with life for many migrants outside the shelter’s gates, where death may very well be the least of their worries. Rape, kidnapping, and extortion of vulnerable refugees are daily occurrences in Juárez. Even inside the Casa del Migrante’s walls, the appearance of calm belies a deep sense of anxiety and fear as asylum seekers stuck in limbo as they wait their turn to ask for refuge in the United States.
Born in El Paso and raised in Juárez, I crossed the US-Mexico border almost daily growing up. I remember walking across the bridge that connects the sister cities and watching inflatable rafts fight the current of the Río Grande below: the migrants of the 1980s, fleeing from crime, poverty, and political unrest. Today as I walk across that same bridge, it feels as if I am watching history repeat itself. I believe that photography’s role is to document our times by capturing both the most joyous and the most painful moments. IF WALLS COULD SPEAK is my way of showing what hope – and the loss of it – looks like for the asylum seekers of our era. The stories on these walls are both heartbreaking and complex, and they defy generalizations that seek to divide us. Through the lens of my camera, I hope to bring awareness and inform those who may have never been to the border, may not have ever met a refugee. I hope to spark a conversation where there has been too much confusion and mistrust. Ultimately, I believe that art has the power to lay bare our common humanity and dignity one person at a time, I believe that one of photography’s role is to document our times by capturing both the most joyous and the most painful moments. My work IF WALLS COULD SPEAK portrays what hope looks like– but also what the loss of it – looks like for the asylum seekers of our era.