Yolanda Fontes sat in her prison scrubs and watched the families gathered all around her. Husbands were reconnecting with wives, sisters with sisters, mothers with children. It was a sunny Sunday in April, and the families had flocked to the Eloy Detention Center, a dreary for-profit immigration prison in rural Arizona, to visit their detained loved ones. A female prisoner sat with her small son on her lap, her arms wrapped tightly around him, as if she were imagining never letting him go. The aunt who had brought the little boy spoke sorrowfully to her sister as the child snuggled in his mother's embrace. Nearby, an imprisoned father sat across a table from his wife, clutching her hand. They were trying to talk, but their four-year-old daughter, hungry and tired, fussed on the floor below.
An impassive guard presided over these melancholy reunions, keeping a close watch on the mothers and fathers dressed in jailbird scrubs. The visiting room was bleak and windowless, lit by glaring prison lights. It was a beautiful spring day outside, but no rays of sunlight pierced the cinder block walls.
Alone among the detainees in this stark space, Yolanda had no family visiting. She was glad to be out of her prison unit, though, and she was determined to be cheerful. Yet her tale was grim, and she looked at the other detainees' kids wistfully as she recounted it. During the two years she'd spent locked up in Eloy, she'd seen her two little girls and her little boy only sporadically. The children, all American citizens, lived in a distant suburb northwest of Phoenix. They came to visit their mom only when a relative or friend could spare the time to drive the two-hundred-mile round trip to Eloy. The last time Yolanda had seen them was two months before.