UH Grad Students Collaborate on National Digital Project, “Torn Apart”


HOUSTON, TEXAS (September 27, 2018)– UH Hispanic Studies graduate students, Sylvia Fernández and Maira Álvarez, collaborated with leading digital humanities scholars on the creation of Torn Apart/Separados, a digital visualization project that emerges from the immigration crisis that started at the United States-Mexico border. Volume 1 of the project, released on June 25th, 2018, aggregates and cross-references publicly available data to visualize the geography of “zero tolerance” immigration policy in 2018 and immigration incarceration in the USA in general. This initial volume highlights the landscapes, families, and communities affected by the massive web of immigrant detention in the United States.

An article for WIRED magazine, “‘ICE Is Everywhere’: Using Library Science to Map the Separation Crisis,” recognized the Torn Apart model as “more than information […] a living resource, one the team hopes migrants will use to find their families and that researchers will build upon.”

The recently released Volume 2 explores the financial landscape of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the impact of its increased investment in detention, enforcement, and deportation of immigrant families. Torn Apart’s data analysis reveals that ICE-related government contract values have increased 987% since 2014 and have almost doubled in the past year. The data shows that 16 “fat cat” congressional districts in Virginia, New Mexico, Alaska, California, Florida, Texas, Colorado, Tennessee, Maryland, and New York received 88.53% of ICE contracts between 2014 and 2018 ($8.64 Billion of the total $9.76 Billion in awards).

Torn Apart began with an intense 6-day collaboration, which brought together a collective of academics, scholars, and researchers with extensive experience in teaching and writing about histories of immigration around the world. Collaborators include the Group for Experimental Methods in the Humanities and Borderlands Archives Cartography, with additional contributions from 50 participants. (Full details available on the project’s Credits page.) “The interdisciplinary and collaborative work within this digital, activist, and mobilized humanities,” Fernández reflected, “offers the opportunity to create new ways of interpreting, visualizing, and documenting the histories of communities with a profound message towards social justice and equity in this world.”

Sylvia Fernández: is a Ph.D. Candidate in Hispanic Studies at the University of Houston and a Research Fellow with Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage. Her research interest is on U.S. Latina/o Literature with a focus on U.S.-Mexico Border, Women’s, Gender and Sexualities Studies, Archives and Digital Humanities. She is co-creator of Borderlands Archives Cartography.

Maira Álvarez: is a Ph.D. Candidate and currently a Research Assistant for the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston. Her research interests lie in the study of U.S. Latino, U.S.-Mexico Border, and Latin American Literature as well as Women’s Studies, Latinx Art and Digital Humanities. She is co-creator of Borderlands Archives Cartography.




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