Border Patrol Threw Away Migrants’ Belongings – A Janitor Saved And Photographed Them

These items were all seized from migrants and asylum seekers trekking through the desert in an attempt to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Deemed potentially lethal or nonessential by border officials, the medications were thrown away, along with other personal belongings, during the first stages of processing at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in southern Arizona.

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U.S. flag nail clippers carried by migrants or those seeking asylum. When apprehended by USCBP while crossing the desert, personal hygiene items such as these are confiscated and thrown in the trash. Currently being exhibited at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles through March 8, 2020, over 150 works from El Sueño Americano/The American Dream. Everyone there has done an exceptional job in bringing this to Los Angeles and with special thanks to Dora Rodriguez, Seth Gadsden, Amada Torruella, Michele Urton, Jocelyn Tetel and curator exemplar Laura Mart. #elsuenoamericanoproject #tomkieferphotographer #skirballculturalcenter #elsuenoamericanoprojectfineprint #ajosamaritans #salavision.org

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While working as a janitor at the same facility from 2003 to 2014, photographer Tom Kiefer secretly collected the belongings and later began shooting them.

Throwing away the personal belongings “underscores the cruelty of the tentative punishment that the government feels the need to levy against these people,” Kiefer said. “It’s clear the majority of which are decent, contributing and who want nothing more than a better life for themselves or for their family.”

It took about six years of collecting — blankets, cellphones, toilet paper, depression medication, shoelaces — before Kiefer began photographing.

Color is an essential component of the photos, a way to inject humanity into each personal belonging, Kiefer said. Shooting the items on the same background “wouldn’t feel right, it would it would feel like it was a scientific observation of something.”

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