To call immigration reform an important issue might be the understatement of the 21st century -- particularly in a city like Miami, where the majority of our population is foreign-born.
Overpaid politicians have done little to deal to effect change -- surprise surprise. But with several amendments currently on the table, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wanted to call attention to the cause. So, they commissioned an eye-catching, interactive mural in Wynwood by street artist Ruben Ubiera dubbed #IamHere.
The mural is a vibrant display of colors and faces -- eight faces of actual people negatively affected by immigration policies. The idea, according to the ACLU, is to show that this is far from a faceless issue, and affects millions of families across the country.
The interactive component to the piece allows passers-by to snap photos as they place their hands in designated spots, then share them via social media. They can also access a QR code on site and hear the true stories of each individual, spoken in their own words.
The eight faces include that of an 11-year-old girl whose father is in immigration detention; a pregnant domestic violence survivor targeted for deportation; and a gay married man who cannot apply for legal status since his marriage is unrecognized by the federal government.
Artist Ubiera says he felt like the cross-platform project was a perfect fit for him, given his previous incarnation as a creative director. As an immigrant himself, he also related deeply to the overall concept.
"I'm an immigrant, much like a lot of the people who live in the United States, ones who have been living here generation after generation. I went through a lot of problems and worries that I shouldn't have, I wasn't breaking the law, but there were so many mysteries about immigration," he says.
"I am a strong believer that our differences are what makes us strong in the U.S. and recognizing and knowing what we have. Again, knowledge is power."
ACLU attorney Shalini Agarwal says they hope the mural accomplishes several goals.
"What we're trying to do is have people understand that real people are affected and real families are affected by immigration reform. It's not a nameless, faceless issue. There are real family separations and real impacts to people's lives."
One of the ACLU's goals is to make sure that there are allowances for exceptions to various rules.
"We want to try and make sure there's more individual consideration of people's cases. Part of the problem is that with immigration currently, it's very black and white. There's mandatory exclusions that don't take into account people's unique situations. That's what the mural is trying to highlight," Agarwal explains.
The ACLU is also concerned about the possibility of a mandatory identify verification system, which would undoubtedly lead to problems, and unfairly preclude some people from working.
"We're concerned about a national ID system, specifically because it's going to include biometric information like photographs. Currently it's pretty error ridden and the errors fall disproportionately on those who are naturalized citizens or foreign born," Agarwal adds.
As of now, the error percentage is around 1%, she says, which equals approximately 1 million people. Serious business.
In the end, the ACLU hopes the mural brings light to the real impact of immigration issues -- and encourages visitors to take action, including contacting their elected officials.
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"It's really about due process, which is kind of an abstract idea. We wanted to make that real for people when they're thinking about immigration reform.
To learn more about the ACLU's stance on these issues and the project, visit their website, or go check out the mural in person at 2337 NW 5th Avenue.