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Art installation protesting immigrant treatment disappears, prompts search, conversation

| Friday, October 9, 2020

At the end of South Quad by O’Shaughnessy Hall lays the shape of a small body covered with a thin foil blanket within a wire cage. Posters asked passersby, “What are you voting for?”

Courtesy of Odalis Gonzalez

The visual demonstration, created by the Student Coalition for Immigration Advocacy (SCIA), was constructed to spark conversation about immigration injustice in the U.S., especially regarding the practice of separating immigrant children from their parents. 

The installation was inspired by a similar demonstration called “#DontLookAway” and “#NoChildrenInCages,” which was created a few years ago by the immigration reform advocacy group RAICES. 

Gonzalez said the demonstration was supposed to spark outrage about the conditions immigrants, especially children, face in detention centers.

“The way people [are supposed to] react is the whole point,” Gonzalez said. “Don’t look away, this is our reality.” 

SCIA is a student club founded around seven years ago. The group bases their advocacy based on Catholic social teaching. 

“Our main mission is to foster the education of immigration and advocate a just immigration system,” Gonzalez said. 

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported Attorney General Jeff Sessions told prosecutors in May 2018 President Trump wanted all undocumented immigrants prosecuted, even if it meant separating them from their children.

“’We need to take away children,’ Mr. Sessions told the prosecutors,” the Times reported.  

The demonstration was part of a larger series the group is sponsoring including dozens of events and demonstrations. The visual piece was intended to bring attention to a Thursday panel discussion titled the “2020 Election and Immigration Policy Panel.” 

The event featured Dr. Karen Richman, Dr. David Cortez and Alejandro Claure, and was hosted over Zoom at the Duncan Midfield Commons.

The demonstration was years in the making, Gonzalez said, and the group has been working with SAO for months to receive approval to move forward. Early this week, the art installation was constructed under the flag pole on South Quad late Monday night.

However, due to miscommunication, a member of the Notre Dame maintenance staff removed the piece and disposed of it.

After the demonstration went missing Tuesday morning, it was thought to be possibly stolen or vandalized, Gonzalez said. Gonzalez is a producer for Show Some Skin, and published a Thursday column in the form of a poem detailing the suspected theft. 

In a statement SCIA released Wednesday, the group said SAO had conducted their own investigation into the event and found the staff member accidentally discarded the demonstration, as he was not aware of the event. 

The statement said the staff member saw the demonstration late Monday or early Tuesday. The sprinklers were turned on on South Quad at the time, and upon seeing the figure under the foil blanket, the staff member believed an actual person was inside the cage.

“Upon approaching the demonstration, the staff [member] saw the cage was in ‘bad condition’ and didn’t know what the set up was about,” the statement said. “Attempting to do his due diligence, the staff member proceeded to discard the cage demonstration, as he claimed to not have any event on his calendar that would justify it being there without further investigation.”

The second demonstration near O’Shaughnessy Hall was constructed Thursday at 8:30 a.m., and remained in place until 8:30 p.m. 

“Again, we thank you for walking with us as we searched for answers and for your support in our mission,” the SCIA board said in their statement.

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About Isabella Volmert

Isabella "Issy" Volmert is a junior majoring in English and minoring in theology and journalism, ethics and democracy at the University of Notre Dame. She currently serves The Observer as assistant managing editor. Follow her @ivolmertnews for niche JED Twitter content.

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