Former border patrol janitor creates art exhibit out of items confiscated from migrants

A janitor at a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) facility created a photography project using items confiscated from migrants who crossed the border.

The Los Angeles Times reports photographer Tom Kiefer worked as a janitor at a CBP facility in southern Arizona from 2003 to 2014 and collected items that were seized from migrants and asylum-seekers who crossed the border.

Migrants who were detained would have their medication, food and some personal belongings confiscated, with most of it being thrown away as they were processed into the facility.

However, in his role as a janitor, Keifer would secretly collect some of the possessions and began photographing them, according to the news outlet.

Keifer’s photography is being shown at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles as part of the exhibition “El Sueño Americano / The American Dream: Photographs by Tom Kiefer.” The exhibition is slated to tour nationally. 

The photos depict a collection of items, from worn shoes and jeans to tubes of toothpaste and food.

“I witnessed all this food being needlessly thrown out,” Kiefer said.

He noted that during his first two years at the facility, agents mostly collected the food and donated them to a local food bank, but after a change in leadership, the food donations stopped and the items were instead thrown away.

Kiefer said he collected items for roughly six years before he began photographing them.

He said he knew after his first photoshoot — a pile of water bottles — that he was onto something and the idea would stick.

“There’s definitely a psychological and emotional weight to all this,” he told the news outlet. “But because I … saved them from the landfill, I have a personal connection to them.”

Kiefer estimates that in total he collected more than 100,000 items that were seized from migrants at the facility.

Kiefer added that he plans to donate the items to an institution or university so they can serve as historical documents, hoping to educate those who see his work.

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Written by Alan Smith

Alan Smith

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