Stories of Immigrant Detention

Edafe Okporo speaks about his experience seeking asylum in the United States. (Photo by Mazin Sidahmed via Documented)

Caveat, a space on the Lower East Side that has been a venue for formerly incarcerated people to present artwork and perform, on Dec. 16 hosted an event featuring formerly detained immigrants. The event offered a new twist on the performance series The Art of Return, organized and directed by Allen Arthur, a journalist and the audience editor of Documented. Writes Max Siegelbaum in Documented:

In New York, criminal justice issues can often take on immigration elements and vice versa. Jails and detention centers are often indistinguishable and sometimes are contained in the same building. Several speakers described how criminal convictions can turn into immigration problems. [Khalil] Cumberbatch described how he had been taken to the United States as a child and only encountered the immigration detention system as an adult.

Attendees heard the story told by Cumberbatch, a Guyanese who narrowly escaped deportation to Georgetown, Guyana, in an interview with Arthur. They also heard a talk by Nigerian Edafe Okporo, who was an activist in Nigeria who advocated for better health care and treatment for HIV-positive people.

As the government passed increasingly restrictive laws that targeted the country’s gay community, Okporo grew more visible for his work. He was attacked one day on the street. “The community came after me,” he said. “When I woke up, I was in the clinic where I worked before.” After a failed attempt to seek asylum in the United Arab Emirates, he made his way to the U.S.

Shortly after he stepped off the plane, he was shackled, given a blue jumpsuit and brought to a detention center. He called the book he wrote about the experience Bed 26, after his bunk number, which was also the name the guards called him by.

Go to Documented to read what Okporo had to say about what his experience in detention taught him.

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