Two refugees are incarcerated in a for-profit US prison after fleeing from deadly violence.
Year Released
Film Length(s)
15 mins
Closed captioning available
Remote video URL


Refuge(e) traces the incredible journey of two refugees who each fled violent threats to their lives in their home countries and presented themselves at the US border asking for political asylum, only to be incarcerated in for-profit prison for months on end.

Featured review

A powerful story of two remarkable people whose lives are upended by violence, Refuge(e) is a beautiful film that shines a light on the ugliness of U.S. immigration policing practices. Where the harsh edges of a profit-seeking immigration prison end, the hopefulness of new lives in the United States, asylum in hand, begin.
César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández - Law Professor
University of Denver & Author of Migrating to Prison


Alpha and Zeferino each fled violent threats to their life in their home countries, made the long, dangerous trip across most of the Western hemisphere to the US/Mexico border, and presented themselves at the border asking for political asylum only to be incarcerated in a for-profit prison in Cibola County, New Mexico for months on end. They represent thousands more like them who can't tell their stories, and their fight for freedom and the right to live calls into question the nature of our immigrant detention system.

Correction: At the end of Refuge(e), the film incorrectly states that Core Civic and GeoGroup made $4,000,000,000 in profit in 2017. That year, Core Civc and GeoGroup made $4,000,000,000 in revenue, not profit.


In a time when we need to make space to talk about suffering, hope, and dreams, Refuge(e) reaches the corners of your soul that beg for humanity and understanding of complex issues around us. Teachers and students have long been pioneers of societal change, this is a film that can spark conversations in classrooms in a compassionate way while also incorporating critical thinking.
Ivonne Orozco Sahi - 2018 New Mexico State Teacher of the Year
Ivonne Orozco Sahi - 2018 New Mexico State Teacher of the Year
The film's beautiful artwork and cinematography brings to light the hardship and struggle to find protection in the U.S. Alpha and Zeferino's story, I hope, makes you question why our asylum process is so unjust, why detention centers are allowed to stay opened, and why we allow migrants to be treated this way.
José Arnulfo Cabrera - Director of Education and Advocacy for Migration at Ignatian Solidarity Network
José Arnulfo Cabrera - Director of Education and Advocacy for Migration at Ignatian Solidarity Network
Refuge(e) should be required viewing for people who want to witness the experiences of immigrants and refugees in detention and think critically about the nationwide movement to end our reliance on the private prison system and divest our collective wealth from corporations that prioritize profit over human life.
Allegra Love - Immigration Attorney / Founder of Santa Fe Dreamers Project
Allegra Love - Immigration Attorney / Founder of Santa Fe Dreamers Project
The film successfully mixes traditional documentary style with illustrated watercolor animations that lend emotional depth to the depiction of personal memories such as the men's nightmarish accounts of trekking through the Central American jungle and their experiences in the Cibola County Correctional Center. The result is a touching exposé of the horrors that might cause a person to leave everything behind, the relief of arriving at the border, and the treatment refugees face in the US immigration system.
GIVE THEM REFUGE: Santa Fe Reporter
March 2019

Awards and Screenings

Society for Photographic Education Media Festival, 2021
Social Impact Media Awards - Impact Video Finalist , 2020
Salem Film Festival - Official selection, 2020
Justice Film Festival in NYC - Special Screening, 2019
Double Exposure Film Festival in DC - Special Screening, 2019
Albuquerque Film & Media Experience, 2019
Telluride Mountainfilm - Festival Premiere, 2019
Violet Crown Theater in Santa Fe - Film Premiere , 2019

Director Commentary

I first went to the Cibola County Correctional Facility in March 2017 shortly after it opened to house immigrants and was completely stunned by what I saw there. The facility had been closed in October of 2016 after losing its prison contract because the conditions were so bad that there had been several inmate deaths. It reopened in February 2017 under a new contract run by CoreCivic (formerly Correctional Corporation of America), the same for-profit prison company that had previously been running it - same facility, same conditions, same guards, same everything, but this time to house detained immigrants. The large majority of the immigrants held there are refugees who presented themselves at a port of entry asking for asylum and who are not in violation of any law. No man, woman, or child deserves to be incarcerated for seeking refuge when their lives are in danger. In fact, it is in direct violation of international human rights agreements that state that all people have the right to seek asylum in another country and that detention on the basis of asylum is explicitly prohibited.

Over months of going to the Cibola facility, I befriended some of the detained immigrants. Many of them were from or had passed through countries on their journey that I lived in as a child - El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, or that I have lived in as an adult - Brazil and Mexico. I could relate to and visualize their journeys in a powerful, visceral way, and as an immigrant to this country myself, I couldn’t begin to imagine what it would be like to be incarcerated upon arriving here. Alpha and Zeferino were among the first to win their asylum cases and be released from Cibola, thanks to legal representation from the Santa Fe Dreamers Project. I knew that they would want to tell their stories, and I felt that the American public needed to see and understand what is happening out there. Their stories represent those of thousands more like them - from all walks of life - who are not able to tell their stories because they are either still incarcerated, have since been deported, or didn’t survive the journey to safety. In the months since this facility first opened, there has been a rapid escalation in the detention of immigrants. There are currently 50,000 immigrants incarcerated in detention facilities nationwide - the largest number ever in this country - and 70% of them are held in for-profit prisons. Alpha and Zeferino were lucky to have legal representation and to have their cases determined in front of the Denver immigration court which has a 60% asylum case approval rate. Since their release, all of the asylum cases at Cibola have been transferred to the El Paso immigration court, which has a miniscule 1% approval rate. It is my hope that this film helps to illuminate what our country is currently doing to refugees and to remove the veil from the ways in which many of us - unknowingly, unwittingly, and unwillingly - are complicit in the financial systems that make these facilities possible. We all have a role to play in dismantling systems that prioritize profit over life and in building new models that are humane and allow for thriving, diverse communities.

Sylvia Johnson, Director

Features and Languages

Film Features

  • Closed Captioning
  • Subtitles
  • Resources for Educators

Subtitle/Caption Languages

  • English

Promotional Material

Promotional Stills

Opens in new window