Reflection on “Building the Wall” and Discussion between Cheryl Little and the Playwright

By: Lily Hartmann, AI Justice Jonathan Demme Human Rights Advocate

“Who would want to come to the U.S. now?” asks Rick, a convicted former private prison manager, in his final line of playwright Robert Schenkkan’s BUILDING THE WALL. The play tells the story of an overcrowded Texas immigration detention center where a private prison company prioritizes its profits over immigrant lives. Schenkkan’s work is both a realistic depiction and a dystopic vision of the state of immigration enforcement. As Rick paints a picture of the horrid, man-made deportation machine, audience members are left to wonder which pieces of his story reflect our current reality and which imagine a tragedy years into the Trump presidency.

In a talk back that followed the play’s Miami premiere, Schenkkan said he was struck by the media’s efforts to normalize Trump’s violent rhetoric towards women and black and brown immigrant communities during the 2016 presidential election. “We had crossed the line,” the playwright reflected. As an artist, Schenkkan believes he has a responsibility to respond, to encourage truth telling and compassion, and to shed light on the stark realities of immigration today. From this sense of concern, BUILDING THE WALL emerged as a work in motion, responding to the Trump administration as it unfolds.

As the play centers on the inhumane treatment of immigrants in detention, it sends the message that the idea of Trump’s Border Wall is largely metaphorical. The ‘wall’ is really the collection of prisons, ICE agents, deportation orders, and other forms of violence against immigrants that will deter and prevent new immigrants from entering the country. It is a force that will only grow with new anti-immigration laws and attacks on the undocumented community.

Immigration advocates, lawyers, and service providers, including AI Justice’s own staff, will find this play eerily haunting and at times traumatic as it reflects on the ways the immigration enforcement system dehumanizes the undocumented. But for audience members with little knowledge of current immigration issues, BUILDING THE WALL is jarring and alarming. It begins to pull back the curtain on a deportation system largely hidden from the public eye. AI Justice’s Executive Director, Cheryl Little, commented, “The audience every evening should be full...these are things you think couldn’t happen in the U.S.” Little then shared stories about undocumented students living in fear and ICE’s neglect of immigrant detainees’ health that has resulted in life-threatening situations.

The issues of immigration enforcement discussed in this play touch upon the fears and daily challenges faced by Americans for Immigrant Justice’s clients. And so, today, October 6, AI Justice hosts a panel after the performance of BUILDING THE WALL with DREAMers directly impacted by Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. We look forward to the opportunity to share with our Miami community this powerful play as well as our own reflections on the current challenges faced by immigrants in South Florida.



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AI Justice in the Community

Newsletter  |  Fall 2014
Vol. 18, Issue No. 3

AI Justice is working closely with Catholic Charities Legal Services, AILA, CABA, FIU and UM to train attorneys willing to offer pro bono services to unaccompanied minors from Central America whose court cases have been “fast tracked.”  Three trainings for attorneys in private practice were conducted in the past few months which will expand the availability of free legal services to vulnerable unaccompanied children facing removal.

AI Justice would like to thank Jones Day, Greenberg Traurig and White and Case for hosting these trainings.

On Friday, October 24, attorneys from the LUCHA team traveled to Naples, FL at the invitation of Project Help, a rape crisis center. Staff trained several victim advocates and the Collier County State Attorneys office on the particular needs of immigrant survivors as well as potential protections.



Spotlight on LUCHA

Newsletter  |  Fall 2014
Vol. 18, Issue No. 3

Did you know that an abuser can use their partner’s immigration status as a tool to exert further power and control in a violent relationship?  Abusers may fail to file papers on their spouses’ behalf that would allow them to obtain legal status so that they can continue to abuse them.   Abusers dominate and manipulate every aspect of a victim’s life to ensure that the victim feels dependent on them. They threaten deportation in addition to other threats continually made.  Many victims fear reporting crimes and seeking help because they worry it could lead to deportation.  If they have children, they are legitimately concerned about being forcibly separated from them.  Language barriers and isolation from family and friends leave victims with no idea of where to turn for help.  They are unable to work because they lack legal immigration status and fear being homeless or unable to feed their children should they dare attempt to escape.

AI Justice’s LUCHA Program works on behalf of immigrant survivors and empowers them by giving them the tools to become independent and self-sustaining members of their families and their community. Once they apply to legalize their status, they can get a work permit, Social Security card and Florida driver's license.  AI Justice’s legal representation is especially critical as immigrants work to gain safety and independence. The majority of LUCHA clients are referred to us by local shelters and law enforcement officer.


USCRI Expands Legal Services for Unaccompanied Immigrant Children

Newsletter  |  Fall 2014
Vol. 18, Issue No. 3
The US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) has awarded AI Justice a million dollar one year grant to expand direct legal representation services for Central American unaccompanied minor children after their release from government custody. This is part of a pilot program that targets children’s cases in eight immigration courts across the country including: Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, Memphis, Baltimore, Arlington and Miami.  

AI Justice will represent children living in the South Florida area, including Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, Lee, Collier and Monroe counties.
Drawing made by a child while in government custody

AI Justice Sues Customs & Border Protection

Newsletter  |  Spring 2014
Vol. 18, Issue No. 2

AI Justice and co-counsel, Kurzban Kurzban Weinger Tetzeli & Pratt, P.A filed suit against Customs & Border Protection for human rights abuses in May.  The suit was filed in the Eastern District of New York on behalf of Alba, an AI Justice client. 

Alba had been held for well over a week in an hielera – a freezing detention cell without access to a shower or basic hygiene items such as soap, deodorant, and no beds, mattresses or blankets. The only toilet in the crowded cell was out in plain view of other detainees and CBP officers.

The lawsuit is the latest step AI Justice has taken in its campaign to end the abusive treatment of immigrants, many of whom are bona fide asylum seekers.  In April, Joseph Anderson, Esq., AI Justice’s Director of Litigation, met with CBP officials and other non-governmental organization at CBP headquarters in Washington, DC, for a meeting regarding CBP’s proposed new short-term detention standards.  Mr. Anderson presented findings of AI Justice’s investigation into the hieleras and called upon CBP to allow  advocates more input regarding their proposed new detention standards.  CBP agreed to do so and is expected to schedule meetings for discussion and review of the draft standards in June 2014.

In March, AI Justice filed a lawsuit in federal court in Miami seeking to compel CBP to respond to AJ Justice’s FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request seeking information on conditions of immigration detention in CBP holding stations.  


AI Justice Hosted the National Film Premiere of DREAM

Newsletter  |  Spring 2014
Vol. 18, Issue No. 2

AI Justice hosted the National Film Premier of DREAM – An American Story, which chronicles the struggles of DREAMers - young, undocumented people brought to this country as children.  The film features Juan Gomez, a DREAMer who grew up in Miami, and the panel discussion following the film highlighted this local and personal connection.  Guests heard from the filmmaker, Aldo Bello, who flew in from Washington, D.C.  for the event; Cheryl Little;  and Monica Lazaro, a Miami DREAMer and AI Justice client.  


Hon. Jose Zabalgoitia, the Mexican Consul General, and Andres Uzcategui, aide to the Hon. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, were in attendance as was Andrew Dubbin, a close friend of Juan Gomez, who rallied to his cause when he was in high school and Juan faced deportation.

The documentary also profiles The Trail of Dreams students – who walked from Miami to Washington, D.C. in 2010 to raise awareness of the plight of DREAMers and whom AI Justice represented, and includes interview footage with Cheryl Little and other notable advocates and politicians.


AI Justice Sharing Expertise in the Community

Newsletter  |  Spring 2014
Vol. 18, Issue No. 2

Thanks to the generous support of our funders, our attorneys are able to share their expertise with our community:

·         AI Justice Children’s Program, along with FIU College of Law’s Immigrant Children’s Justice Clinic and UM’s Children               and Youth Law Clinic, trained nearly 30 attorneys on representing children eligible for special immigrant juvenile                   status. 

·         Michelle Ortiz, Program Manager of Lucha , AI Justice’s Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Program, trained:

nursing students at Miami Dade College on human trafficking; staff at the State Attorney’s Office on immigration protections for victims of violent crime; and, leadership at the North Miami Beach Police Department, on “The Role of Law Enforcement, Understanding U-visas: [for victims of violent crime]."


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About Us:

AI Justice is an award-winning non-profit law and advocacy firm that protects and promotes the basic human rights of immigrants. In Florida and on a national level, we champion the rights of unaccompanied immigrant children; advocate for survivors of trafficking and domestic violence; serve as a watchdog on immigration detention practices and policies; and speak for immigrant groups who have particular and compelling claims to justice.