Shortly after President Trump signed an executive order temporarily barring citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations, protests arose in airports across the country, where some travelers were being detained. Over the weekend, demonstrators with signs and lawyers offering legal advice jammed airports, while rallies and marches took place in city streets and squares. Gathered here, images from this weekend’s protests against the ban, from New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, Seattle, Washington, DC, Dallas, Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia, and more.
It was photographer Graham MacIndoe’s five-month experience inside an immigration detention that led him and reporter Susan Stellin to pursue American Exile—a collaborative portrait and interview project that takes an in-depth look at the stories of families who have gotten caught up in the bureaucracy of the United States’ immigration system.
“There is this whole side of immigration, detention and deportation that is not brought to the public eye,” says MacIndoe. “Everyone talks about the borders, the influx of people across the border. But there are a whole bunch of people that are getting deported who have visas, are here legally or are falling into grey areas that never get talked about.”
What MacIndoe and Stellin found is that the issue is far more complex than the border. Many individuals who get caught in the red tape of the immigration system are asylum seekers, some were brought to the United States legally as children and others hold green cards. A single misdemeanor, even a very old one, is all it can take for someone to be exiled from the United States.
“We tried to show that even when people talk about how we are deporting criminals—this is really a strong word for a lot of these situations and it gets translated through the immigration system into a much more serious crime,” says Stellin.
Take Marco for example, who had a green card and had lived in the United States since he was a baby. After a trip to France with his fiancee, a U.S. citizen, he flew back to the states and was detained in JFK airport for two misdemeanor drug possession charges that he had received as a teenager. “He had only been arrested. He never actually did time,” Stellin explains. “He didn’t even really consider it a record, or really remember it as a record.” Marco spent six month in detention before he was permanently banned from the U.S.
“It’s not just deportation. It’s exile. People can’t come back in any way, shape or form,” says MacIndoe. “It’s almost biblical in its punishment”
Twenty of these often-unseen immigration stories—families made up of mixed-status people who have been ripped apart by detention, deportation and even exile—are currently on view at Photoville at Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Showing both sides of a family’s story was a crucial piece for Stellin and MacIndoe. In 2014 the duo received a fellowship from the Alicia Patterson Foundation for the work. “That really enabled us to do what we had envisioned,” says Stellin. “Show the separation by traveling abroad, interviewing and photographing the person who was deported as well as the family left behind.”
The majority of the stories at Photoville are presented as diptychs, featuring formal portraits taken by MacIndoe of the separated family members, pull quotes from Stellin’s extensive interviews and brief stats about the nature of each case. Stellin and MacIndoe worked with Luke Hayman of Pentagram Design to balance the text and images to create an immersive experience with each story.
“The idea was to try to give the photographs and the text somewhat equal weight,” says Stellin.
“It had to be an all in thing—where you get all the information in one go,” MacIndoe adds.
Stellin and MacIndoe say they hoped that integrating the text and portraits into a single piece would make their exhibit more engaging, and allow the people in the portraits to speak for themselves. The design choices appear to have worked, the two say they were blown away by the amount of time people spent with each story during the first weekend of Photoville.
“The other night there were seven teenagers who spent about a half hour in there,” MacIndoe says of a group that was dressed in soccer uniforms and had clearly just popped over after a game at Brooklyn Bridge Park. “I could hear them talking the entire time about the images, the cases, someone they knew whose dad had been deported. They were totally engaged.”
For MacIndoe and Stellin the ability to reach such a wide audience with this work is what it is really all about. “It is really easy to make work and take it to people who know, understand and appreciate it,” says MacIndoe. “But when you take it out to the wider world, and try and educate and shed light on something they might not have known about … that is a very difficult thing to do. Photoville does that. It takes your word to a broad section of society. It is a brilliant thing.”
See American Exile during Photoville’s final week. Photoville grounds will be open Thursday 4-10, Friday 4-10, Saturday noon-10 and Sunday noon-8.