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Immigrant Children’s Drawings Capture a Moment in History

immigrant child drawing
One of the drawing children produced in detention centers at the US Border
Credit American Academy of Pediatrics, via Associated Press

By Jim Sliney Jr.

When refugees seeking asylum are released from the immigration detention centers in the Rio Grande Valley they go to the Humanitarian Respite Center; part of the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. Throughout every day upwards of 200 families and/or individuals arrive and stay for approximately 24 hours before traveling to their various destinations.

In late June, the Center received some visitors from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). President-elect of the AAP, Dr. Sally Goza told AAP news, “Our role was to tour and see with our own eyes what’s going on in these facilities and what’s happening with children in these facilities.” While visiting, Dr. Goza and her colleagues made many observations and took several photos.

Now the Smithsonian Institute is showing an interest in obtaining some of the drawings that were captured in those photos.


The physical drawings are with the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in the care of Sister Norma Pimentel, the executive director.

One of the drawings shows adults behind bars with children behind them, while outside the bars are figures by a table wearing hats and utility belts – one smiles, one does not. Another is of a barred chamber with toilets – no people - in the middle of the rear wall of the chamber a security door opens into a totally black space. In a third drawing, people lay on the floor under blankets – their hands and feet stick out from under the blankets - in a barred chamber, while in the center of the chamber from an elevated position, there is a person in a hat.

immigration children drawing
Credit American Academy of Pediatrics, via Associated Press

As reported by Big Think, Sister Pimentel told Dr. Goza that the three artists were 10 and 11 years old, but she did not know any of their names. Sister Pimentel stated there are many drawings created by the children and not all of them are about being behind bars.

"Here, children have an opportunity to be children again, because they've been scared and they've seen their parents crying. . . I believe that these children show a lot of resilience. Many of their drawings show very positive things, and that's something that's very beautiful."


By collecting these drawings, the museum carries out its mission, “the increase and diffusion of knowledge” through the preservation of culturally relevant artifacts. The National Museum of American History said in a statement, “The museum has a long commitment to telling the complex and complicated history of the United States and to documenting that history as it unfolds, such as it did following 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, and as it does with political campaigns.”

immigration children drawing 2
Credit American Academy of Pediatrics, via Associated Press

These drawings are the products of children who experienced an historical moment in our nation’s history. Some of these experiences are dark, some, as Sister Pimentel said, are positive. All are a testament to a chapter of American history that we all hope will soon be behind us. But until then Sister Pimentel says, “I thought when we started in 2014, it was just for a couple of days. We’re still at it a couple of years later—I don’t know how long it’s going to continue. It’s not up to me. If there is a family that arrives and needs help, I’m here, and if I have the strength, I’m going to help.”