The Silicon Valley Voice

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Locked in a Box: Community Conversation on Immigration Detention Surprises and Stirs Consciences

“I’m not a criminal, I’m not a drug dealer, and I’m not a rapist,” Maritza Maldonado told about 100 Silicon Valley community members assembled for a conversation on immigration detention hosted by Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church on Sept. 17 — the first day of U.S. Constitution Week.

Rather, a California native whose parents immigrated from Mexico, Maldonado is the founder and Executive Director of Amigos de Guadalupe Center for Justice and Empowerment in San Jose.

Maldonado was one of five panelists invited to discuss immigration detention after a screening of the 24-minute documentary Locked in a Box: Immigration Detention, directed by David Barnhart. The film is available for free viewing at


The documentary gives voice to individuals in the U.S. immigration detention system, which is the largest in the world, and volunteers who visit them. The detainees are boxed indefinitely into prisons under a mandatory bed quota system run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The detention centers are big business. More than 200 immigration jails and prisons, the majority operated by for-profit prison companies, are subcontracted by ICE.

The contractually-guaranteed minimum of local beds to be filled per night is now about 40,000. The average cost by one estimate is said to be $160 per detainee per night, bolstering the economies of the communities in which the centers are located.

In round-table discussion, Silicon Valley community members expressed surprise and chagrin about the details of the detention system.

“I’m disturbed, sad and looking for how to share information about this,” commented Sunnyvale resident Jennifer Britton.


Panelist Comments

Maldonado said that many immigrants in San Jose live with a fear of detention and deportation so deep that it is traumatic for the entire family.

Dorothy Ma, immigration attorney with Amigos de Guadalupe, recounted a deportation case she brought before a judge.

“Counsel, why are you even here? You know how I’m going to rule,” said the judge, meaning a ruling for deportation.

The highest-profile panelist, also a native-born American (from Pennsylvania) and child of immigrant parents, was U.S. House of Representatives member Ro Khanna. His 17th District encompasses Cupertino, Fremont, Milpitas, Newark, San Jose, Alviso, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara. He said that 85 percent of the cases brought to his office are related to immigration issues.

“How do we break the fear of change that the [current] President is appealing to?” asked Khanna.

Khanna referred to Abraham Lincoln’s 4th of July speech, given on July 10, 1858, in Chicago. Lincoln said that immigrants are Americans even though they are not the distant sons and daughters of the American Revolution. Immigrants are Americans because they are dedicated to America and to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.

“We have besides these men — descended by blood from our ancestors — among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe — German, Irish, French and Scandinavian — men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things,” said Lincoln.

Lincoln continued, saying that belief in freedom and opportunity for all “is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.”

Other panelists were Tuan DinhJanelle, community organizer with People Acting in Community Together (PACT) (, and Kathryn Macaya.

Macaya is seeking a pardon from Gov. Jerry Brown to prevent her husband, who was born in a refugee camp for Vietnamese, from being deported to Vietnam, where he has never set foot.


On-Going Conversations

“I have no expectation when we gather together to discuss difficult issues, that we will always be in complete agreement. However, we at Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church want to continue to be a place where we can have these conversations,” said Head of Staff Hardy Kim.

“We want this to be a place where everyone who is committed to making our communities safer, more loving and compassionate, can gather to do this hard work together.”

For information about Community Conversations to be hosted in 2019 by Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church, 728 West Fremont Ave., visit


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