Post by Ana Ballesteros-PenaAna is a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Postdoctoral fellow (ECRIM Research Group, University of A Coruña in Spain and Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies, University of Toronto in Canada) and a member of Border Criminologies. Her current research 'Governmigration' analyzes immigration detention in Canada and Spain. This is the first post from our new series on 'Expanding the penal landscape', organised by Ana Ballesteros-Pena.


On May 17-18, 2021, the Faculty of Law  at the University of A Coruña, where the ECRIM Research group is based, hosted an online workshop titled, Expanding the penal landscape: The immigration detention phenomena’. This academic meeting was organised within the framework of the project Governmigration: Governing irregular immigration through detention. Discourses and practices from an interdisciplinary approach, co-partnered by the University of A Coruña (Spain) and the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto (Canada). This workshop (videos available here) was part of a series of similar events (see here info about previous events).

The aim of the workshop was to provide an opportunity for cross-national conversations about the mutability of detention systems across the world and the multiple practices and techniques used in the detention of migrants. Furthermore, the workshop was also designed with an interdisciplinary lens to bring together scholars from law, psychology, political science, sociology, anthropology and geography.

It included perspectives from both North America and Europe. The contributions made it clear that cultural, political, social and historical legacies have a significant impact on the way that contemporary practices are configured, thus, comparative projects are very useful in understanding general trends in the field. However, it is important to note that concepts and practices do not mean the same in different places. As José Ángel Brandariz concluded in his paper, “given the noteworthy diversity of migration enforcement policies, cross-national explorations are vital and these explorations can contribute to advocacy purposes by offering critical clues to promote social justice and racial justice agendas”.

The workshop highlighted that immigration detention systems across the world are very dynamic. Governments respond to patterns of unwanted international mobility by displaying a variable set of legal, political, material and physical tools. We have also witnessed the increasing intertwining of humanitarian and punitive discourses, which justify and naturalize strategies to detain/contain the movement of migrants and asylum seekers. These strategies go from pre-detention tools (such as classifications and risk tools) to post-detention mechanisms (such as alternatives to detention, electronic monitoring or banning the movement of these people). At the same time, research has shown that the boundaries of what constitutes detention are not always clear, with new and ad-hoc facilities, often inside the same country.

The papers, indeed, showed that novel and sophisticated strategies to categorize people (as refugees, minors, women or vulnerable, but also as dangerous, risky or “bogus” asylum seekers) end up in developing mechanisms to target, exclude, control and supervise that reinforce the dehumanization of increasing groups of population.

The contributions to this themed series explore three different contexts illustrating the dynamic nature of immigration detention practices today. In the first installment, Julia Manek and David Tobasura explore the Estaciones migratorias in Mexico as torturing environments despite the official discourse that characterizes them as “accommodation” spaces.  The following post by Jona Zyfi explores the ways in which privatization practices have been increasingly permeating the immigration detention system in Canada. Finally, Carolina Sánchez-Boe’s contribution explores “digital” alternatives, such as electronic monitoring, and the personal, but also the economic, implications of these more “humane” tools that substitute detention.

There is still ample room in the literature for capturing the particularities of immigration detention systems in different contexts. Regions in the Global South should be integrated into research agendas in the future in order to expand this subject of study, but also enrich the dynamic and interdisciplinary set of tools for our analyses.

The project is funded by the European Commission under the scientific program, Horizon 2020, within Marie Sklowdowska-Curie Actions and jointly implemented by both academic institutions.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Ballesteros-Pena, A. (2022) Expanding the Penal Landscape: The Immigration Detention Phenomena. Available at: [date]