An Artist Used a Drone to Photograph Rarely Seen ICE Detention Centers

An Artist Used a Drone to Photograph Rarely Seen ICE Detention Centers

Imperial Regional Detention Facility, Calexico, California.
Imperial Regional Detention Facility, Calexico, California.
Photo: David Taylor, University of Arizona School of Art, Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project

Unfortunately, it’s not hard to find information about the disturbing, unhealthy, and inhumane conditions that immigrants face in ICE detention centers, many of which are privately-owned. It is, however, more complicated to find photos of these detention centers. Access to photographers is often not on the table.

David Taylor, an artist and professor at the University of Arizona, thought of an innovative way to get around the facilities’ iron grip on cameras: He decided to use a drone to photograph the ICE detention centers from the sky.

The result was a series of impactful photos of the centers from a perspective that’s normally not available to the public. Gizmodo spoke to Taylor about his photographs, which you can check out in the slides ahead, and asked him what his reaction was when he starting see the first ones coming in.

“That the for-profit prison system is an industrial landscape,” he said.

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Taylor says his work has dealt with border spaces for the last 20 years.

Taylor says his work has dealt with border spaces for the last 20 years.

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His recent projects frame the border as a sensor delivering real-time information about far removed places marked by walls and ports of entry.

His recent projects frame the border as a sensor delivering real-time information about far removed places marked by walls and ports of entry.

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“[I’m] interested in how the Border Security Industrial Complex and by extension the Prison Industrial Complex intersect with those ideas,” Taylor said.

“[I’m] interested in how the Border Security Industrial Complex and by extension the Prison Industrial Complex intersect with those ideas,” Taylor said.

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“Viewed in that way, the ICE detention centers located throughout the United States are a manifestation of border space.”

“Viewed in that way, the ICE detention centers located throughout the United States are a manifestation of border space.”

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Taylor said this was his first time using a drone for his work.

Taylor said this was his first time using a drone for his work.

Central Arizona Florence Correctional Complex, Florence, Arizona.
Central Arizona Florence Correctional Complex, Florence, Arizona.
Photo: David Taylor, University of Arizona School of Art, Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project
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He has never received complaints from ICE or the centers about his photographs.

He has never received complaints from ICE or the centers about his photographs.

San Luis Regional Detention and Support Center, San Luis, Arizona.
San Luis Regional Detention and Support Center, San Luis, Arizona.
Photo: David Taylor, University of Arizona School of Art, Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project
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Although interior access to the centers is difficult to obtain, Taylor says the facilities are clearly visible on Google Maps.

Although interior access to the centers is difficult to obtain, Taylor says the facilities are clearly visible on Google Maps.

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They can also be located on the websites of the prison corporations and on ICE’s own website.

They can also be located on the websites of the prison corporations and on ICE’s own website.

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Taylor said it is not illegal to take photos of these facilities with a drone.

Taylor said it is not illegal to take photos of these facilities with a drone.

South Texas Family Residential Center, Dilley, Texas.
South Texas Family Residential Center, Dilley, Texas.
Photo: David Taylor, University of Arizona School of Art, Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project
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What he hopes the public can learn: “The United States maintains a vast system of incarceration in which migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are detained for profit.”

What he hopes the public can learn: “The United States maintains a vast system of incarceration in which migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are detained for profit.”

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DISCUSSION