A wake-up call to the injustices that immigrants face in U.S. detention centers is the subject of Miguel’s haunting new ballad “Now.” Released as the final single from his fourth album War & Leisure, the politically minded song marks one of the Blaxican R&B singer’s most poignant compositions to date.
The California desert serves as the backdrop for the music video, which dropped last Friday. It opens with a welcome sign to the City of Adelanto, home to the Adelanto High Desert Detention Center, which houses on average 2,000 detainees hailing from Mexico, Central America, and Haiti. The sign reads, “The City with Unlimited Possibilities.” The scene then transitions to a close-up of the American flag as it flies proudly in a clear blue sky, and then into a shot of the detention facility where three people have died this year alone due to “egregious” medical errors. It’s a somber reminder of the inhumane conditions immigrants are forced into when they are kept in detention centers and face prison-like living conditions.
Last fall, Miguel performed the song at a rally near the detention center after visiting with immigration advocates and former detainees. The stories he heard shook him to his core and he decided to incorporate some of them into the music video. He also included snippets from the rally and concert. “To see innocent people being ripped from their way of life to essentially be incarcerated and used as cheap labor is really crazy to me,” he told Rolling Stone.
Carlos Hidalgo, who was detained several times and helped spearhead a hunger strike at Adelanto, spoke to Miguel during the rally and recounted the experience to Remezcla over the phone. Hidalgo told Miguel that knowing the truth may be too hard to bear. “You better be prepared to carry the load and do something about it,” Hidalgo remembers cautioning him. He also told Miguel about suicide attempts by detainees who found no other way out of their situation. He vividly recalled the maggots in his food. This experience inspired Hidalgo to take action and become an advocate.
“Miguel’s song ‘Now’ is an anthem for this generation,” said Christina Fialho, the co-director and co-founder of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), the organization helped arrange the concert. In an interview, she told Remezcla that two-thirds of detainees are held in private prisons. A goal of the concert was to ask the media to stop referring to “immigration prisons” as detention centers. “Imprisoning people for profit is not the look of freedom,” she proclaimed, adding that she hopes more artists will rise to the occasion and demand change.
Sylvester Owino, an asylum seeker from Kenya who was detained for more than nine years, was also featured in the video. Over the phone, he told Remezcla that he knew the message had resonated with Miguel. “I didn’t know he was going to put it in a song, necessarily, but I knew we touched him.”
Miguel has long shown an interest in activism, dating back to Kaleidoscope Dream‘s “Candles in the Sun.” War & Leisure is his personal reckoning of that history, drenched in the musical legacies of icons like Prince, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder who he says “inspired his own political awakening.” Here’s hoping Miguel continues to use his platform to battle social injustice.