As recent raids and a pending Supreme Court case push the issue of immigration into the national spotlight once again, Grammy Award winning artists John Legend and Juanes travelled to Arizona, in many ways the epicenter of the fight for migrant rights, to explore the issue. Yesterday, the two multiple-Grammy winning artists visited with people in detention and heard from local families impacted by immigration enforcement, to bring a cultural component to the campaigns to end detention, put a face to those caught in the system, and link it together with the efforts to end mass incarceration.
This marked the first stop on Legend’s listening tour to address immigration issues as part of the #FREEAMERICA campaign – in which the artist is visiting with people who are or have been incarcerated, law enforcement, legislators, prosecutors, union members, crime victims, and experts who’ve been thinking critically about America’s prison problem.
In Arizona, Legend and Juanes met with detainees inside the Eloy Detention Center, a privately-run facility similar to those that house approximately 34,000 immigrants each day, and one that most recently made news for the suspicious and still uninvestigated death of Jose de Jesus Sahagun, a detainee who was brutalized by guards and allegedly committed suicide there this past Spring. Inside, they got a glimpse of the conditions that thousands of immigrant families face every day in detention centers across America.
Having been denied permission to perform inside the facility for detainees, as has happened on previous #FREEAMERICA visits, pair of artists then proceeded to a makeshift, flatbed truck stage outside the facility, with a sound system directed back toward the detention center, to still bring a period to musical encouragement to the detainees within. This performance was inspired by previous similar editions of the “Chant Down The Walls” series created by another partner on the day – the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
From there the artists returned to Phoenix, where they next witnessed Tent City, the twenty plus year old outdoor jail run by Maricopa County’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio who himself is on trial for civil rights violations and abuses. To conclude the day’s activity, John Legend and Juanes then proceeded to the Puente Arizona, where they met with former detainees, and the families of current detainees (in both Eloy and ‘Tent City’), who are fighting for the release of their loved ones. Following the deeply emotional meeting, the pair of artists took to another stage erected at the community center, to also perform for the gathering – just as they had for their detained family members hours before.
Referring to the trip, Legend explained,“These people are treated as criminals, but their crime is that of coming to America in pursuit of the American Dream. Many have fled desperate situations in their home countries where they fear for their lives. They long to be reunited with their families and given the opportunity to live and work without fear. Surely this country of immigrants can figure out a smarter, more humane way to accommodate those who want to come here.”