From March to September of 2018, I had the privilege of working as a fellow at the Center for Human Rights, made possible by the Jennifer Caldwell Endowed Fund. My work for CHR consisted in constructing an archive for the Northwest Detention Center Resistance (La Resistencia), one of our partner organizations. La Resistencia is a grassroots organization that works to end detention and deportation and closely follows the lead of those detained at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC). Because of their close relationship with individuals in immigration detention, they have a thorough awareness of the numerous human rights abuses that occur within the system. Through their work with detainees, La Resistencia has collected a substantial amount of testimonies and other information that shed light on the human rights abuses at the detention center and in the immigration system as a whole. However, because they are a volunteer-run group, it can often be challenging to organize and store this information in an accessible way. The idea for the archive project came out of conversations with La Resistencia around their needs as an organization and our mutual goal of working together to produce publications that center the voices of individuals in immigration detention.
The goal of the archive project was to create and implement an organizational structure that could allow Resistencia members to easily find and access files and to remove all sensitive information from a subset of these files so that they could be used by the CHR for research purposes. The project consisted of three phases. First, I scanned all documents that had not yet been digitized. Then, I worked with the Resistencia to create a standardized organizational structure for their files and reorganized all the files into the new structure. Finally, I redacted identifying information using Adobe Acrobat. I wrote a brief summary of each document and tagged them with relevant themes, which I logged onto an Excel spreadsheet index. The finished index included over 300 files.
Overall, this project has been an incredible learning experience. First of all, it was a unique opportunity for me to use some of the skills I had learned in classes as a Library and Information Science student and develop my knowledge of archiving and digital preservation. Throughout the project, I had the chance to work with several UW librarians and archivists, who were able to advise me on best practices. This knowledge of file organization and preservation will serve me well in my future career as a librarian.
Most importantly, this project reaffirmed my admiration for the work that La Resistencia and the detained individuals they work with to advocate for an end to an inhumane and abusive system. Throughout my work, I read numerous stories of the impact of family separation, indefinite detention, and brutal conditions within the detention center. At the same time, it was heartening to see the ways that even in the midst of such terrible situations, people still find the courage to band together to advocate for better conditions, even at great personal risk. For years, hunger strikers and activists inside the detention center have been fighting for basic dignities like contact visits with their families and the right to be paid minimum wage for their work. NWDC officials have retaliated against those involved by placing them in solitary confinement and transferring them to other states. The stories I read underscore the importance of the CHR’s goal of finding ways to amplify these voices and working to expose the human rights violations occurring in our own backyard. I feel very fortunate to be part of an organization with such a strong commitment to working in solidarity with on-the-ground leaders of immigrant rights struggles.