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Orange is The New Black Returns With Plight of Immigrant Women Detainees

Bobadilla as Santos Chaj in Orange is the New Black. Netflix screenshot

By Sandra De Anda, Guest Columnist

Since its inception, I binge-watched Orange is the New Black in my dorm with other students of color. The final season of OITNB  is no different, save for the new setting introduced to viewers that isn’t solely Litchfield Penitentiary but a detention center that was included in the expansion of PolyCon Enterprises. This enterprise is supposed to represent real-world private corporations such as the GEO Group and CoreCivic that “approximately detain 15000 people in immigration detention per day,” according to detention statistics gathered by Freedom for Immigrants.

The new season depicts storylines tackling the nuances and complexities of many detained womxns’ experiences, including the crimmigration pipeline so familiar with in Orange County.

These days, there’s no escaping the oversaturation of news depicting the violence inflicted on immigrant communities. With this in mind, I viewed OITNB’s final season with an initial skepticism. Would these representations do justice for detained womxn? What does reproductive justice look like for detained womxn? What does watching this show do differently than a headline?

The answer came with the character of Santos-Chaj character played by Melinna Bobadilla.

Santos finds herself in a precarious situation when she and her husband attempt to cross into the United States from Guatemala in a lorry that is soon stopped by the men transporting them. The men demand additional payments to continue the journey onward, but the couple doesn’t have the money to pay up. One of the men looks at Santos and tells her there are other forms of payment, an allusion to rape that later arises with a subplot dealing with abortion.

When in the immigrant detention center, Santos’ desire for the procedure can’t be understood by anybody because no one speaks K’iche, an Indigenous Mayan language. Bobadilla breathed life into a character whose real-life counterparts are often overlooked by media outlets in conversations around migration. The actress felt a deep sense of responsibility in playing Santos.

“Her character exists where many real womxn exist in these intersections of oppression,” says Bobadilla. “I am still reflecting. There was much trepidation with this role, but I did my best to honor it. While visual mediums spark curiosity, it is just an introductory step to action.”

Santos’ character is of great importance because it shows us a representation of the intersection of reproductive justice and immigration. “There are men continuously making decisions over women’s bodies creating yet another barrier to health in detention,” says Bobadilla. That’s something that was highlighted by the media when a 17-year-old tried to have an abortion when placed under the care of Refugee Resettlement. The girl eventually had the procedure done and this past June, a U.S. Appeals court ruled, “that the US government cannot deny access to abortions for unaccompanied minors in federal custody.”

Having binged OITNB’s farewell season, the only thing left to do is to ask what and how do we aid these characters that are actually real people in need of real  life solutions? At the moment many advocates are rallying around Assembly Bill 32, a policy that aims to eliminate private detention contracts and detention centers by 2020. Locally, the Orange County Justice Fund is raising money to bail out immigrant detainees and there’s also the Orange County Rapid Response Network that is onboarding new first responders.

Those are just a few things to do after devouring another OITNB season one last time.