Creative Partnership

Black, Pregnant, and Detained

RAICES collaborates with artist Michelle Hartney and photographer Akilah Townsend to raise awareness about the medical neglect of Black pregnant mothers in immigration prisons
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In 2020, ICE detained over 2,000 pregnant women, double the year prior. The RAICES Family Detention Services team found that approximately 80% of the pregnant women detained at Karnes family prison are Black. With this demographic shift, RAICES observed that ICE abandoned its previous policy against detaining pregnant women and infants under one year of age while neglecting to offer prenatal and postpartum care. Seeing the blatant racism and anti-Blackness in these actions, RAICES lawyers, with partners Cameroon American Council, Haitian Bridge Alliance, and UndocuBlack Network, filed a civil rights complaint sent to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in March 2021 demanding an investigation into the inadequate medical care for Black pregnant women and infants in immigration prisons. You can read the complaint and learn more here.

Our complaint, unfortunately, has gone unanswered. So this Mother’s Day, RAICES is launching a campaign in collaboration with artist Michelle Hartney and photographer Akilah Townsend to amplify the voices of the mothers who have experienced horrific conditions at the hands of ICE. By embroidering quotes from the testimonies of detained Black mothers on the garments detainees are forced to wear, Michelle illustrates their unspeakable trauma. Through her lens, Akilah captures the pain, perseverance, and resilience behind each testimony. And together, we can turn up the pressure on DHS and demand justice for these mothers.

We invite you to share these powerful and moving images and demand that United States Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas not only investigate these abusive institutions, but also go one step further by freeing mothers and children from detention.

Michelle Hartney

Michelle Hartney is a Chicago based interdisciplinary artist whose work addresses women’s rights, maternal healthcare issues, and discrimination in art institutions.

“My work explores social and political issues through installation, video, fiber, and performance. I utilize these materials to examine women’s health issues, rape culture, and politics, often inviting viewer interaction through performance and the Internet.

My recent work addresses the current political climate in the United States, often incorporating simple cathartic interactions for viewers to engage in, which stems from my previous work as an art therapist.

After giving birth to my first child I began researching the history of obstetrics in the United States. This resulted in projects about abuse at the hands of doctors, and how it relates to rape culture, in addition to examining America’s high maternal mortality rate, postpartum PTSD, transparency in healthcare costs, and obstetrics’ roots in racism and misogyny.”

Akilah Townsend

Akilah Townsend is a photographer and art director based in Chicago, Illinois. Her work has been published by The New York Times, Inc Magazine, Atavist Magazine, Washington Post, Men’s Health Magazine, Chicago Magazine, Jon Basil Tequila, RedBull Media, The Bail Project, AU+AG, and Alexander Rolf.