When I spoke with Claudia Muñoz two weeks ago, she said she was tired of fearing the moment when authorities might arbitrarily place her in detention. Because she arrived in Texas from Mexico at the age of 16, the 27-year-old is ineligible for Obama’s deferred action for students—and that means it might be easier for her to be deported. So Muñoz decided to take the matter into her own hands, and infiltrate a detention facility. “I’m the one who’s going to determine the moment when I’m detained, and the moment when I’m released,” she said.
Muñoz was apprehended a week-and-a-half ago by customs agents near the US-Canada border, and has been working to document the stories of immigrant women housed at the Calhoun County Correctional Facility near Detroit, Michigan. She works with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), which has infiltrated detention centers in the past with the aim of organizing with detainees on the inside. The facility holds just thirteen undocumented women—among non-immigrant inmates held for more serious charges.
Since her detention, Muñoz has managed to call me collect several times to explain what she’s found. Each of those collect calls costs $9.99—paid to a private contractor that specializes in jailhouse communications services—and ends at exactly five minutes, with several precious seconds lost in the one-minute warning message. Muñoz says she was prepared for the rather deplorable conditions: it’s often cold, and the food is often inedible, so inmates and detainees go hungry.
What she didn’t expect were the daily lockdowns. Two or three times daily, immigrant detainees and inmates accused of varying crimes are locked into cells for a few hours at a time. Early on, Muñoz says her cellmate explained the solicitation charges she was facing, and asked her why she was in. When Muñoz told her it was because she didn’t have papers, her cellmate didn’t seem to get it. “But what did you do?” she questioned. Muñoz says she had to explain that simply being undocumented has landed her in jail.
Since her arrival at Calhoun, she’s been in contact with NIYA, which last week highlighted the imminent removal of Everlida Calvo Sanchez—a woman who is the primary caretaker of three children who feared being deported to Guatemala, where her own sister was murdered just two years ago. Although she was set to be deported last Friday, immigration authorities opted to allow her stay after a barrage of phone calls and petition emails demanded a halt to her deportation.