Since May, the US government had taken more than 2,300 kids away from their families as a result of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ new “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which calls for criminally prosecuting all people entering the country illegally. Reports started surfacing of the ensuing chaos at the border; in one especially horrible case, a child was reportedly ripped from her mother’s breast. As outrage grew, the question came up over and over again: Where were the children? Between the ad-hoc implementation of “zero tolerance” and the opaque bureaucracy of the immigration system in general, migrant advocates, journalists, and even politicians struggled to find clear answers.
Alex Gil, a father of two, knew [he] could be useful. As the digital scholarship librarian at Columbia University, Gil’s job is to use technology to help people find information—skills he had put to use in times of crisis before.
Gil and [his colleague] Manan Ahmed, a historian at Columbia, assembled a team of what Gil calls “digital ninjas” for a “crisis researchathon.” These volunteers were professors, graduate students, researchers, and fellows from across the country with varied academic focus, but they all had two things in common: an interest in the history of colonialism, empire, and borders; and the belief that classical research methods can be used not just to understand the past but to reveal the present.
They set up a Telegram chat and a master Google spreadsheet, and then they began looking for any publicly available data—government immigration records, tax forms, job listings, Facebook pages—they could use to isolate and locate the detention centers that could be holding these children.
The result of their week of frantic research is Torn Apart / Separados, an interactive web site that visualizes the vast apparatus of immigration enforcement in the US, and broadly maps the shelters where children can be housed. The name is meant to evoke not only the families who have been separated, but the way in which this sundering rips the social fabric of our country.
“It shows that ICE is everywhere,” Gil says. “We ourselves were shocked even though we study this. A lot of America thinks this phenomenon is happening in this limited geographical space along the border. This map is telling a different story: The border is everywhere.”
Full article from Wired Magazine here: