Innovation Law Lab team members Ana Ortiz Varela, Ariel Prado and Casey Mangan recently attended the 2022 Detention Watch Network Member Conference in Seattle, WA. At the conference, they strengthened relationships with many advocates & groups from across the country, including directly impacted leaders who are fighting to abolish immigration detention and build better communities.

Ariel, Casey and Ana stand in Seattle with a "Public Market" sign and the puget sound in the background
Ariel, Casey and Ana in Seattle with the Puget Sound as a backdrop

Innovation Law Lab has been a member of Detention Watch Network since 2019. We value the opportunities that DWN membership provides to collectively envision a better future and to join forces in fighting back against immigration detention and the corporate profit and government control that it maintains.

Ana, Ariel and Casey reflected on the conference, sharing lessons and inspiration with the rest of our team. Here is just a small bit of what they highlighted:

Without an abolitionist framework, we will embed the system even more.

Immigration detention cannot be reformed, it must be abolished. So-called “alternatives to detention” (ATDs) are not truly an alternative – they are another form of detention, profit and control. Immigration detention is built on racism and is anti-Black in its origins and present. Part of abolition is naming what will be present in the world we envision in addition to what will be absent.

Center directly impacted people.

This is not just elevating directly impacted people to leadership, but supporting directly impacted people in healing. Challenge the notion that those detained inside need education; people inside also advocate and educate.

Support each other.

We have to support each other and also take away the money and power of the prison industrial complex.

We must work together with all involved in the fight, locally, regionally, and nationally, and expand our collaboration beyond the immigrant rights movement.

Who can we work with who we are not currently working with? Our work to abolish immigration detention is indebted and inextricably linked to the movements to abolish prisons and policing.

Litigation is most effective in coordination with other advocates, organizers.

Educators, storytellers & organizers, especially directly impacted people, lead the way in campaigns to support detained folks, advocate for improvements, shut down immigration detention and fight for investments in healthy communities. Without working together, positive judgements will not be as effective.

Ariel gesturing with posterboard on wall behind him and marker in hand
Ariel participates in a breakout session

You can learn more about the work of some of the directly impacted leaders who participated in the conference, and who have much to teach:

  • Andrea Manrique, formerly detained at the Irwin County Detention Center, organized women to record a video denouncing conditions under the COVID-19 pandemic while detained and is featured in the documentary The Facility.
  • Nilson Barahona, formerly detained at the Irwin County Detention Center, founded ICE Breakers “to continue to fight for immigrant rights and highlight all the issues we face as a community.” and is also featured in the documentary The Facility
  • Sulma Franco was detained for over a year at various immigration detention facilities, including Don Hutto Residential Center, and is now an organizer with Grassroots Leadership.
  • Ny Nourn survived abuse, punishment & incarceration and faced deportation. She is now the Co-Director of the Asian Prisoner Support Committee and an organizer with Survived and Punished.

At the conference, participants viewed a screening of “The Facility,” a documentary told mostly through video chat and news footage that tells the story of Nilson Barahona, Andrea Manrique, and others who were detained at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gross medical negligence was rampant at the facility, but detained people protested and risked retaliation in order to fight for their rights and freedom. The screening was followed by a panel discussion with Nilson and Andrea as well as director Seth Freed Wessler.

As we engage in this collective work, we are grateful to continue to learn from many leaders and groups fighting to abolish the prison industrial complex. We must keep building community in the face of incarceration, and continue working towards liberation together.

To learn more about Detention Watch Network, their work and their campaigns, go to

Ana and Sulma smiling
Ana and Sulma