Artist's pillow fundraiser spotlights immigration issue, helps detainees

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Immigration laws can be difficult to understand, especially for those not impacted.

Some Chicago artists are working on a fundraising project that spotlights one particularly controversial immigration law, known as the 34,000-bed mandate.

"We are making pillows," said Alejandro Diaz-Perera, an artist and immigration activist. "Thirty-four thousand pillows."

On the second floor of the Weinberg-Newton Gallery in the River North neighborhood, they are making decorative pillows - the types on a couch or bed. And the process has just begun.

So far, 115 pillows are done.

Diaz-Perera is a legal Cuban immigrant and he has made it his mission to help other immigrants who are not as lucky.

The 34,000-bed mandate is a federal requirement that says 34,000 immigrants should be locked up every day in detention centers across the country.

"Each pillow represents one of the beds designated for an immigrant detained across the U.S.," said Cara Lewis, a fellow artist and immigration activist.

Pillows about people, immigrants who have been stitched together by a desire to start a new life. And they are not all criminals, not by a long shot.

"It ranges. Some of them have committed a crime. Some of them are families with babies and children who got stopped at the border while crossing into the United States," Diaz-Perera said.

The pillows are a fundraiser for those immigrants in detention. The pillows cost $160 and the money goes toward legal fees for detainees. The material for the pillows, by the way, is clothing donated by immigrants.

"We're going to keep doing this until Congress changes this arbitrary law or until we've reached the 34,000 pillows," Diaz-Perera said. "That could take forever. It could take 15 years or it could take one day for them to change the law."

And until it does change, these activists will continue to needle the officials in Washington, D.C.
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