John Legend and Juanes are two of the biggest names in music.
But their latest performance brought them to a surprising place — a federal detention center.
The musicians traveled to Eloy Immigration Detention Center in Eloy, Arizona, a 1,500-bed facility where immigrants are held awaiting deportation or a court date with an immigration judge.
The visit was part of Legend’s #FREEAMERICA campaign, a multi-year effort to change the conversation around the criminal justice system and bring attention to issues like mass incarceration, juvenile offenders being tried as adults, for-profit facilities, and banning the box.
Recently, Legend shone a light on one issue in particular — that of the mass detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants.
An estimated 34,000 immigrants are being held at the 250 ICE detention facilities across the country.
Some of the detainees have criminal pasts, but many have no criminal record. They are held until they can make bond, or are brought before an immigration judge, or until they’re deported back to their home countries.
Legend and Juanes visited Eloy this week to bring attention to the plight of detainees and the impact of immigrant detainment.
Legend invited Juanes to join him at Eloy to draw a parallel between mass deportations and the alarming incarceration rates for people of color in the United States, an intersection Legend refers to as “crimmigration.”
Legend and Juanes took a tour of the facility and had a chance to speak to some of the men and women being detained there.
Legend and Juanes intended to perform a short concert for the detainees but were told the inmates wouldn’t be allowed out of their cells.
So they got creative and performed on a flatbed truck across the street from the facility.
It was a moving display of support complete with music, chanting, and peaceful demonstrations.
Legend and Juanes played for a small crowd of close to 100 people, mostly families of detainees and immigrant rights activists, some of whom took to the stage to share messages of hope and encouragement for those behind bars.
After singing a few songs solo, Legend and Juanes performed a duet of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” as the crowd sang along under the clear desert sky.
Though the concert was short-lived, America’s immigration reform debate rages on.
Fueled by fear and xenophobia, the push for immigrant detention and deportation only grows stronger. But demonstrations like this give a signal boost to the other side of the fight: the many law-abiding individuals and families who desperately want a chance to succeed in this country and don’t have it.
“My heart breaks,” Juanes told the Associated Press. “It’s very difficult to understand how someone’s liberty can be taken away unjustly.”