English News

Border Wall Mural Shares the Portraits and Stories of U.S. Deportees

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

A mural on the Mexico side of the U.S. Mexico border depicts the portrait of six immigrants who arrived to the United States as children.  

“Each one represents a different profile,” said Lizbeth De La Cruz Santana in an interview with ABC 10 News. The University of California, Davis doctoral student envisioned the media installation with nested barcodes that, when activated, play first-person accounts on visitor’s phones. 

“Technology is one of the best ways and venues for people to tell their stories,” said De La Cruz Santana, 28, who worked with friend and mural artist, Mauro Carrera and 15 volunteers to develop the project. The group painted the mural on polyester canvass at “House of the Tunnel” the Tijuana art gallery that once served as a secret underground tunnel for those smuggling drugs to San Diego. 

The stoic faces portrayed include those of two deported women whose children were born in the U.S. and a deported veteran. These stories are part of De La Cruz Santana’s dissertation on literature and immigrant experiences, which will also argue for the protection of those who come to the U.S. as young children. While the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program shielded young undocumented immigrants from deportation as of 2012, De La Cruz Santa says protections could go further by removing criminal history from DACA qualifications.

These stories are also of great significance to De La Cruz Santana, who was born and raised in California “because I am part of a mixed status family. Both my parents came into the U.S. undocumented,” she said. They later received amnesty and permanent residence in the United States.

Carrera, 32, was born in Mexico, crossed the border without papers as a toddler, and ultimately received legal status through his father who was granted amnesty. He directed volunteers, including the pictured deportees themselves, in painting the murals, which he hopes will help others to “see the people behind the politics.”

Similarly, De La Cruz Santana said, “I had the urge to show the faces behind immigration to better inform the public of the individual stories of such a complex issue.” She was able to complete the project in August with a $7,500 Mellon Public Scholars Fellowship. 

Playas de Tijuana, where the mural was erected, is also the beach where asylum seekers from Central America arrived en masse last year.

Currently, the Supreme Court is considering whether or not to allow the Trump Administration to end the DACA program, which will jeopardize the futures of some 700,000 young undocumented immigrants living in the United States. 

As the court arrives at the momentous decision, efforts by advocates like De la Cruz Santana helps to drive home the devastating impact of deportations on communities and families across the country. 

Cassandra Etienne is a freelance reporter and video journalist based in New Jersey. Her multimedia and documentary projects reflect an interest in cultural reporting, and in covering social issues such as civil rights, women's health, and education and healthcare reforms.