Waterwell & Broadway Advocacy Coalition Launch THE FLORES EXHIBITS
Waterwell and Broadway Advocacy Coalition announced the launch of "The Flores Exhibits," a series of short videos that amplify the voices of children held in detention facilities at the U.S. / Mexico Border. The first group of videos, with more to be released soon, are now live at www.flores-exhibits.org and form the core of an integrated strategy to affect change in our immigration system through narrative-driven advocacy.
In "The Flores Exhibits," high-profile artists, lawyers, advocates, and immigrants read the sworn testimonies of children held in detention facilities at the U.S. Border. Readers featured so far include Elizabeth Rodriguez ("Orange is the New Black"), Sakina Jaffrey ("House of Cards"), Kathleen Chalfant (Wit, "The Affair"), David Schwimmer ("Friends"), Malina Weisman ("A Series of Unfortunate Events"), Arian Moayed (Waterwell Co-Founder, "Succession"), Bitta Mostofi (Commissioner of the NYC Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs), Jeffrey S. Chase (Former Immigration Judge), and Luis Mancheno (Immigration Lawyer and refugee from Ecuador).
Each reader reads strictly what is presented in sworn testimonies taken in June 2019 by a team of lawyers visiting detention facilities as monitors for the Flores Settlement Agreement. This 1997 agreement set limits on the length of time and conditions under which children can be held in immigration detention, which were upheld by a 2017 court order in Flores v. Sessions.
The team working under Flores in June discovered severely detrimental conditions, including child separations from families continuing a full year after the executive order ending that policy. In response, members of the team created Project Amplify, a national campaign to raise awareness and establish legal protections for children in government care.
Elora Mukherjee, the Jerome L. Greene Clinical Professor of Law and director of Columbia Law School's Immigrants' Rights Clinic, has served as a monitor for the Flores team and has spent over 1,000 hours interviewing people held in immigration detention facilities in the past five years. "We have never sought to go public like this with children's testimonies, but now we must," said Mukherjee. "We can't trust the Executive Branch, the Judiciary has been under repeated attack by the President and Department of Homeland Security, and Congress has been blocked from access to detained children. Only ongoing scrutiny and outrage from the American people will help ensure that independent oversight is preserved and this terrible situation is not repeated."
Warren Binford, the lead organizer of Project Amplify and the Director of the Clinical Law Program at Willamette University, said "Powerful forces are trying to silence these children, to erase their existence, their experiences, their identities. These stories and their undeniable truth have the power to change the course of history."
As part of this effort, the Project Amplify team asked Waterwell and Broadway Advocacy Coalition, who are known for their work linking art and civic engagement, to bring more visibility to the testimonies of those held at the border. "The Flores Exhibits" was conceived in response to this request.
"Waterwell is dedicated to finding ways that we, as artists and as citizens, can make art that engages deeply with the most pressing political and ethical issues of our time," said Lee Sunday Evans, Waterwell's Artistic Director. "We made this project to bring sustained, substantive attention to the effects of the unconscionable conditions being deliberately created at the U.S. / Mexico border detention facilities - particularly on children, young adults, and young mothers with infants. Bringing together artists, activists, lawyers, judges, and immigrants to read these grueling testimonies is an organizing effort to uphold the protections outlined in The Flores Settlement, now and in the future."
The Trump administration has recently announced a proposal to scrap the Flores Settlement Agreement entirely, replacing a 20-day limit on youth detentions with indefinite detention, which adds urgency to this public awareness campaign.
"The recorded videos are a spark for further action," said Ben Wexler, Artistic Director of the Broadway Advocacy Coalition. "We provide means of deepening knowledge, contacting elected representatives, recording other sworn declarations from home, and hosting live events locally that mobilize communities to engage with these lived experiences. In the era of social media and whirlwind news cycles, we believe there is a deep need for responsible storytelling, which is built into the design of 'The Flores Exhibits'."
"The Flores Exhibits" is co-created by Waterwell and the Broadway Advocacy Coalition in collaboration with the Immigrants' Rights Clinic and the Center for Institutional and Social Change at Columbia Law School. By bringing two arts-based organizations with deep roots in civic engagement into a collaboration with the rigor, policy knowledge, and research prowess of two legal and public policy organizations, "The Flores Exhibits" aims to influence systemic change.
All videos in "The Flores Exhibits" are live now at www.flores-exhibits.org. The site also includes more information about the Flores Settlement Agreement, tools to grow your own advocacy, and contact information for help arranging public events to show "The Flores Exhibits" videos and mobilize community organizing efforts.