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Justice Detained: The Proliferation of Immigration Detention in the US

Project Overview

A documentary revealing the stories, examining the policy and amplifying the voices speaking about detention practices for immigrants.

Identifying the Problem

Since 2008, immigration enforcement has become the most resourced enforcement agency in the United States, resulting in the detention of more than 300,000 immigrants in jail-like facilities each year. Because immigration law functions outside the bounds of the criminal justice system, those caught up in the immigration system are afforded limited, if any, legal protections. And because the affected individuals lack U.S. citizenship, they do not constitute a voting bloc, which has further hindered the development of an effective movement addressing the plight of detained immigrants.

Having worked extensively on a documentary about conditions in supermax prisons in the United States, it became clear to Aseem that similar concerns of abuses were present in the nation's immigration system. As the national discourse on immigration reform has intensified, questions surrounding the rights of alleged "illegal aliens" are most often answered by detached third party observers, politicians or lawyers. Through the medium of film, Aseem and his team saw an opportunity to tell the stories of the people at the heart of the debate, and shed light on a system that locks away 34,000 people on any given day without criminal charges or guarantees of due process.

Creating A Solution

Aseem and his colleagues at the Yale Visual Law Project decided to leverage their past experiences, resources and time to create a documentary focused on immigration detention in the United States.  Justice Detained provides a 360-degree examination of the regime of immigration detention in the United States.  It seeks to understand the stories of detainees, the policies of legislators and the logic of enforcement officials, all in an effort to gain insight into how to move forward.

Lessons Learned

“Documentary film-making relies on building trust with interviewees and subjects, as these individuals essentially give to you their stories, and by extension, a part of their life,” says Aseem.  He stresses that the process of trust-building requires full transparency, constant contact and honesty to build a relationship that turns a story into a narrative.  This task can be especially difficult when dealing with stakeholders on multiple sides of an issue, as each individual has his or her own motivations for agreeing to participate in the storytelling process.  To overcome tensions that may make interviewees pause, the filmmaker should be clear and truthful about his or her intentions in order to dispel any hesitations and to ensure that all parties are comfortable with their participation.


A feature-length production has many demands, including camera equipment, travel expenses, post-production resources and legal assistance. With the support of funds from the Yale Visual Law Project, Yale Law School and Human Rights First, Aseem and his colleagues were able to raise the $30,000 necessary to finance Justice Detained.

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About This Project

HIA Program:

France France 2012

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