A Virtual Visit to a Detention Center

I’m playing a new online video game today. It’s called “Homeland Guantanamos” and it has transformed me into an undercover journalist whose task is to unearth clues about the mysterious 2007 death of Boubacar Bah, a Guinean tailor who was held at a detention center in Elizabeth, NJ for overstaying his visa.detain.jpg

“Homeland Guantanamos” is the latest multi-media offering from Breakthrough, the human rights organization which uses media and popular culture to raise awareness here and in India. [Abhi covered their video game “I Can End Deportation” or I.C.E.D. earlier this year. ]

We’ve all heard stories about immigrants (illegal and residents) being detained without explanation or for prolonged periods of time. At the website, I got to see what life might be like on the other side of the fence. I took a tour of a simulated immigration detention center and collected clues to help solve the mystery of Bah’s death (he died of a skull fracture and brain hemorrhages). Along the way, I saw other detainees (eg: a pregnant woman kept in shackles during labor) and witnessed conditions of the facilities, including the solitary confinement room, the bathrooms, and the dining hall. Though this is a simulated experience, the content is based on factual sources such as news articles, court documents, and interviews.

Why call the site “Homeland Guantanamos”? According to Malikka Dutt, executive director of Breakthrough, “the Department of Homeland Security is violating the human rights of legal and undocumented immigrants” and some of the inhumane conditions of detention centers where these immigrants are being held are not all that different from the facility at Guantanamo Bay. A few facts:

Last year, more than 300,000 people were held in detention centers on mainland USA.
The cost to tax payers last year alone was $1.2 billion to tax payers.
Since 2003, 87 detainees have died in detention centers.
There are over 100 detention centers throughout the country. [ A map of detention centers is available here, searchable by zipcode. The most detention centers seem to be clustered in the Northeast. ]
Between January 2004 to November 2007, nearly a million people passed through immigration custody.

As with I.C.E.D., response to this project has not been all warm and fuzzy. In a Times article published this weekend, Kelly A. Nantel, a spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the video game was “a work of fiction that dehumanizes the individuals depicted and grossly distorts conditions in detention facilities.”

Dutt maintains that the Dept. of Homeland Security’s enforcement measures are “increasingly draconian” and hopes that this game will serve as a platform for increased support of the Protect Citizens and Residents from Unlawful Raids and Detention Act, proposed by Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Edward Kennedy (D-Ma.). More in the NYT article.

The Homeland Guantanamos site features compelling video testimonials from detainees. Breakthrough went “live from jail” and interviewed several long time permanent US residents who face possible deportation because of unfair immigration laws. It also has an action guide and a memorial wall. Most certainly worth checking out.

2 thoughts on “A Virtual Visit to a Detention Center

  1. Basically if its not a first person shooter where you’re blowing away anyone on Guantanamo, the only people that will play this “game” are people who are already signed on to the cause. That’s the sad truth. That may not be human rights friendly, but thats the state of pc/video games today.

  2. Thank you for this post-it’s really great to see it here. I’ve been to a “detention centre” in another life to visit a Bangladeshi father of three that was being held. Because most ICE facilities are overfilled, they move people to county jails, so I went to a county jail in New Jersey.

    I had met his family earlier – 18/19 year old daughter had to give up the chance to be a doctor because she’s undocumented; wife had become depressed and crying all the time with husband in jail; two small children as well – 7 and 9 maybe? Delightful. A bit traumatized.

    It was, well, sad.

    But meeting him was another thing altogether. He didn’t look like the pictures in his house – he was much skinnier- gaunt even. And I saw him through glass. I said a few things I shouldn’t have, all riled up in pseudoactivist frenzy, and he firmly corrected me. He asked me to look after his daughter.

    That’s detention. A multibillion dollar industry to destroy people’s lives.