A Letter to Cyntoia Brown in Solidarity From an Immigrant Sister in Struggle

Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story documentary screenshot

Editor’s Note: Cyntoia Brown received clemency last week after serving 15 years in prison for a killing committed while a victim of child sex trafficking in Tennessee. Alejandra Pablos, a former Santa Ana resident, is an immigrant and reproductive rights activist who’s planning to appeal a recent immigrant court ruling that revoked her green card and ordered her deported to Mexico.

By Alejandra Pablos (Guest columnist) 

Dear Cyntoia,

I first heard about your story in 2014 by watching Me Facing Lifenot long after being released from Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody following two years spent in an immigration prison. Most call them detention centers, but that makes me think of juvenile detention centers, and although most would argue those are mini-jails only preparing our youth for the prison-industrial complex, I can assure you there are no teachers, social workers, or bells to release you in ICE detention centers.

Before I continue, I just want to let you know that I see myself in you. You are worthy, you are loved. You should’ve never spent a second in the hands of the state.

I was born in Mexico and am actually originally from Orange County. I lived in Santa Ana with my family for almost 15 years. Then my mom moved us to Tucson, Arizona. My OC life was very different compared to my new life in the desert–or so I thought. California has always been more “progressive” because it’s represented by mostly black and brown people, informed by immigrants. Arizona, a red state, was proud of being anti-immigrant and home to Sheriff Joe Arpaio. I used to think that if I would’ve stayed in Santa Ana, that I wouldn’t be in deportation proceedings for a DUI and possession of paraphernalia. The Latinx and Chicanx communities in OC have been challenging criminalization and immigration enforcement just like everyone else. Wherever there are black and brown folks, there will be a fight for dignity, respect and self-determination. And the truth is, Arizona is home to some of toughest sentencing laws, especially for women and for non-violent drug offenses.

I want to thank you for being courageous and fighting the injustice of your incarceration. We’ve been failing black girls for too long and I won’t stop sharing your story in solidarity with mine. I share my story as well because, I, too, am committed to helping others avoid what I went through. My outspoken support of immigrant rights and reproductive justice led to my arrest last year outside of the Department of Homeland Security in Virginia, which then led to my second time being detained at Eloy Detention Center. And finally, on December 11, a day I longed feared, I was ordered by a judge in Arizona to be deported to Mexico – a country I have never lived in. Now, I am preparing to ask the clemency board for a recommendation letter so that our Governor can grant me a pardon. Can we fight for a pardon for you? I know that a pardon cleans your record and doesn’t disenfranchise you for the rest of your life.

How can many folks be okay with being a country of punishment instead of nurturing, growing and healing?

Separating families is an atrocity that should never happen anywhere, but it’s happened to black folks since the beginning of this nation. Their solution is to put us in prisons where children die in the hands of ICE officials and where young girls can spend their entire lives behind bars, with little regard for rehabilitation or transformation. There is clearly a war against poor people, black and brown women and girls, immigrants, families and LGBTQ folks. The tearing apart of our communities has been due to lack of responsibility and oversight from the same people that are here “to serve and protect” us. I want you to know that I am going to keep fighting for us because I know that my liberation is directly tied to your full liberation, to the liberation of all black women and girls.

I, along with millions of people, are waiting for you.

Peace and justice.

Your sister in life,


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