Academic journal article Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice

From Bare Life to Bureaucratic Capitalism: Analyzing the Growth of the Immigration Detention Industry as a Complex Organization

Academic journal article Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice

From Bare Life to Bureaucratic Capitalism: Analyzing the Growth of the Immigration Detention Industry as a Complex Organization

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Although it remains very much a contested issue, many observers have concluded that deterrence policies and tactics employed by wealthy, advanced capitalist states of the West will not over the long term curtail efforts by migrants and asylum seekers to make perilous journeys across international borders in search of safe havens and better living conditions (Sampson 2015). According to the UN High Commission on Human Refugees (Edwards 2011: 1), for example, "there is no empirical evidence that the prospect of being detained deters irregular migration, or discourages persons from seeking asylum."

Further, government policies and international aid programs appear unable to stem today's "age of migration" (Castles, Haas, and Miller 2013). Recent estimates show international migrant stocks rising from 154 million in 1990 to 231 million in 2013 as total migrant flows have more than doubled from an average of 2 million per year between 1990 and 2000 to about 4.6 million annually the following decade (OECD-UNDESA 2013).

A person's decision to migrate is driven less by the migration policies of destination countries than by deeper push factors such as social change, political disruption, and concerns over personal security (Castles 2003). In addition, there is some evidence to indicate that when certain states employ so-called alternatives to detention (or rather, employ polices that fall short of detention), fewer t ha n one in ten asylum seekers a nd deportation-based detainees who have been released from custody actually disappear (Edwards 2011).

Nevertheless, the lack of evidence concerning the efficacy of detention and other deterrence policies and the existence of cheaper non-custodial measures to prevent absconding has not reduced expenditures on immigration control in most major immigration destination countries. In fact, governments continue to commit ever-larger budgets to this. For example, between 2007 and 2013 the European Union slated four billion euros, or 60 percent of its total Home Affairs budget, to immigration control measures, despite regional economic austerity. This amount does not comprise the additional funding spent by individual member states. Spain, for example, increased its migration contr ol budget to one billion euros between 2006 and 2009 (Andersson 2014: 37). The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had an operating budget of $2.9 billion for detention and deportation in fiscal year 2009 alone (Immigration and Customs Enforcement 2009). The amount the U.S. federal government spends strictly on detention more than doubled between 2005 and 2010, and peaked at US$2 billion in 2012 (see Figure 1).

Due to increased spending, the capacity for holding non-citizens in administrative detention has jumped exponentially. In the U.S., there were 7,500 beds in 1995, a figure that increased to more than 30,000 by 2009 (Immigration and Customs Enforcement 2009). In 2009, ICE reported that 378,582 people were placed in custody or supervision, with daily averages of 30,000 noncitizens locat ed in 300 facilities and an additiona l 19,000 in alternative detention programs. While similar data has thus far not been made available for the entire European Union, according to one estimate, as of 2012 there were 473 detention centers located throughout Europe and bordering countries as of 2012, an increase from 324 in 2000 (Migreurop n.d.).

This rapid increase in immigration detention funding and ca pacity is a puzzle. Why have states opted for this course of action despite the fact that ther e is little or no evidence demonstrating its long-term efficacy or cost effectiveness? Who are the actors involved in the ma na gement of these people and what are their interests? What does immigration detention tell us about the role of complex organizations who view human bodies as "raw material" (Welch 2002)? I argue that post-structuralist accounts of immigration detention obscure more than they illuminate and depoliticize more than address problems associated with detention. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.