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RAICES is launching a campaign calling on CBP and ICE to abolish the ice box at SXSW today in Austin, Texas.

We’ve re-created a hielera — an “ice box,” similar to those used on the border to incarcerate migrants when they first cross into the country. The hielera will be a large room with -10 temperatures similar to those encountered by migrants in detention centers. We’ll play an audio story of our client recounting her time held in the hieleras. We will be projecting the translation of the audio on a screen.

“We’ve re-created a hielera because it’s one of the first experiences migrants have when they reach U.S. soil. Most of us know nothing about the degrading conditions into which our government forces people when they arrive in this country.” said Erika Andiola, Chief of Advocacy at RAICES, “Every migrant held in the hieleras — and that means almost all migrants who cross the border — speaks out against the inhumane conditions they face: intense cold, little or no natural lighting, few provisions but a Mylar blanket. The hielera is a snapshot of our immigration system, a look into the modern-day detention centers that the country is operating across the southern border, with little transparency or accountability.”

Nearly all migrants who cross the border spend at least one to three days in the hielera; many spend more time there. We have clients today at the Karnes Detention Center whose children are sick because of the time they spent in the cold room. First hand accounts have reported no access to soap, toothpaste, or toothbrushes. Many have said food is poor and have complained about the bitter cold. Multiple people have died or been hospitalized after staying in hieleras. A transgender woman died in ICE custody after staying in the hielera, and an 18-month old child also died just weeks after staying in the ice boxes with her mom. Another 5-month-old toddler was hospitalized with pneumonia after spending five days in the hieleras.

The re-created ice box is a 8 x 20 foot storage pod and it will be part of a campaign we’re launching calling on ICE and CBP to stop holding migrants in these inhumane conditions, and especially in these cold rooms (#AbolishICEBox, #NoMasHieleras).

Outside, there will be a community-painted mural reading “Asylum is a human right” surrounded by a chain-link fence symbolizing the barriers our immigration system imposes on that internationally-recognized right. Bandanas will be tied up on the fence with messages written by any and all who want to comment on our country’s approach to immigration. The fence is being placed in front of the mural as a metaphor to represent the border wall by keeping the audience away from the American dream.

The art work was created by local artists Yocelyn Riojas & Jerry Silguero.

“I believe that migration is beautiful. Our people have been doing it for generations, long before we erected invisible borders. Our “Asylum is a human right” exhibit depicts the brutal way our government treats those crossing that border, undercutting the notion that America is a land of opportunity. We’re here to encourage those who have never heard of a hielera to question and challenge the policies that force children to sleep in freezing cold cages for no apparent reason.” — said Jerry Silguero, one of the artists on the project.

“This exhibit honors our community, while also challenging the way we’re treated. It speaks to the role that immigration plays in making America what it is. As an artist, my work seeks to equip those fighting the deportation machine with imagery as powerful as the testimonies we hear from those who have experienced our immigration system when seeking asylum.” – said Yocelyn Riojas, a local artist who created this exhibit.

Every migrant held in the hieleras — and that means almost all migrants who cross the border — speak out against the inhumane conditions: an intensely cold room, where there’s little or no natural lighting and you have to sleep on the concrete floor, often with just a Mylar blanket. Food is poor, people are sick, conditions are cramped, and you wait hours, often days, before being transferred to another detention center. The few pictures of the hieleras that have been made public depict different kinds of misery: rows and rows of people behind chain-link fences in large interior warehouses, or groups of people in a small, concrete room akin to a jail cell.

Through this action we are calling on ICE and CBP to stop the practice of holding immigrants in freezing cold rooms while they are detained. This is an unnecessary and cruel practice and it must end.

The exhibit will be in a parking lot at 308 Guadalupe St. Austin TX

Opening hours:

  • 12 PM to 6 PM March 8
  • 11 AM to 2 PM March 9
  • 11 AM to 6 PM March 15
  • 11 AM to 2 PM March 16