Post by Lauren Martin, Academy of Finland Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Geography, University of Oulu. Lauren is working on a project called 'Privatizing Border Enforcement in the European Union and United States' and is a member of the RELATE (Relational and Territorial Politics of Bordering, Identities, and Transnationalization) Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence.
Part of a long-standing “prevention through deterrence” policy, expanding ER and mandatory detention sought not only to stem migration along the US-Mexico border, but to shift migrant’s cost-benefit calculations of migration’s risks. Detention as deterrence has been globally criticized as ineffective (see this blog’s recent posts on Malta here and here), revealing state immigration official’s fundamental misunderstanding of why people migrate. And yet, it continues to be a common rationale for state immigration agencies to house migrants in inadequate conditions. In a recent article in Geopolitics, I analyzed detention-as-deterrence to argue that while contemporary incarceration does not seek to rehabilitate inmates or detainees, detention policy does produce particular kinds of migrant subjects.
ICE, however, argued that because the children were accompanied by their parents, Flores did not apply to them. Their parents, they argued, provided them the care they needed, and ICE was simply detaining accompanied adults. In a lawsuit against ICE’s detention practices at Hutto, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and University of Texas Immigration Law Clinic argued that Flores applied to all minors in immigration custody. In the end, the judge agreed that Hutto’s conditions were wholly inadequate, but refused to order families’ release, citing a long precedent of federal judicial deference to executive and legislative power over immigration law. The settlement was in place from 2007-2009, and created compliance measures to track ICE’s efforts to bring Hutto to Flores standards. In the end, the agency did not do so, and perhaps sensing another lawsuit, ICE release families from Hutto in 2009.
Moreover, the politics surrounding family detention showed how geographical imaginings of safe and secure US territory, vague external threats, and dangerous external territory provided legal justification for ICE’s detention practices. More insidiously, asylum-seekers’ narratives of persecution and physical harm were taken as evidence of a dangerous external world, and further reason to shore up border and immigration protection. This mobilized what I call a geopolitics of vulnerability, in which immigration enforcement—and the federal court’s affirmation of it—externalizes vulnerabilities in order to create a secure US territory. Whether these vulnerabilities include asylum-seekers’ and children’s vulnerability to harm or geopolitical vulnerability seems not to matter. In the US post-9/11 context, any and all threats are understood in the same register, allowing the Department of Homeland Security to roll immigration—which includes asylum—up with counter-terrorism, smuggling, and drug trafficking. Thus, the micro- and macro-geographies of detention and immigration law are intimately connected, as families’ bodily relationships were enrolled in a broader geopolitical project.
Building on this, I just began a project comparing the role of private security firms in immigration and border enforcement. My articles on family detention and other US security-related matters can be found here.
How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):
Martin L (2013) The Politics of Detaining Families. Available at: http://bordercriminologies.law.ox.ac.uk/the-politics-of-detaining-families (Accessed [date]).