Plymouth Gallery

El Sueno Americano: Tom Kiefer

In 2007, during my fourth year working as a janitor at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility near Ajo, Arizona, I asked for permission to retrieve canned food from the trash. The food had been carried by migrants and confiscated and discarded by Border Patrol agents.

I wanted to bring it to a local food bank so it would not go to waste. When I started collecting the food, I saw what else was being thrown out: possessions such as rosaries, Bibles, wallets, toothbrushes, shoes, clothing, belts, and family photos.

These confiscations struck me as wrong. The cruelty of stripping away such personal items from vulnerable people is dehumanizing, both to those whose belongings are taken and to those who enforce this policy.

It took several years to find a way to photograph these belongings. I wanted to show my respect for the people who carried them across the desert, and my outrage at this arbitrary and inhumane practice. I hope that this work encourages people to connect with their own sense of human decency, and to advocate for the better treatment of immigrants in this country.


About Tom Keifer

Born in Wichita, Kansas, fine art photographer Tom Kiefer was raised primarily in the Seattle area and worked in Los Angeles as a graphic designer. Kiefer moved to Ajo, Arizona in December 2001 to fully develop and concentrate his efforts in studying and photographing the urban and rural landscape and the related cultural infrastructure. Kiefer’s first project Journey West Exhibit (2001-2011), was created during his process of discovering and documenting the natural and man-made landscape between towns and cities in his adopted state of Arizona.

This show features the personal effects and belongings of people apprehended in the desert by U.S. Border Patrol agents that were confiscated and subsequently discarded as they were processed at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in southern Arizona. These personal effects and belongings represented their choice of what was essential for them to bring as they crossed the border to start or continue their life in the U.S.

Kiefer continues to document the vast archive of personal belongings that he recovered between 2007 through August 2014 and produce prints for display to foster community dialogue surrounding the state of migration and the millions of undocumented and essential workers living in a state of fear of our government and their future. Kiefer lives and works in Ajo, Arizona, about 40 miles north of the USMexico border.

You can visit Kiefer’s website: You can also find Kiefer on Instagram: @tomkiefer.photographer.

This exhibit will be up in the Plymouth Gallery space beginning Saturday, September 4 through the end of October.

— Plymouth Gallery