Latino Studies Detention and Deportations
César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0087


Governments have long relied on detention to enforce immigration laws. In recent years, this practice has become an increasingly common feature of immigration law enforcement. At one point, the United States confined approximately fifty thousand people in immigration detention centers each day, setting it apart from the rest of the world in the size of its immigration detention system. It is not alone, however, in tapping the state’s power to use detention as a means of regulating cross-border movement by people. Other immigrant-receiving countries, notably western European nations, also confine individuals suspected of violating immigration law. Governments do not promote immigration detention on the basis that detainees merit punishment. Rather, confinement is typically justified as a means of identifying potential immigration law violators, examining whether they have a rightful claim to remain in the country, and, if not, facilitating deportation. Though immigration detention on some scale is a common practice in immigrant-receiving nations, it is not without critics. With immigration detention’s growth has come increased scrutiny from academics, advocates, policymakers, journalists, and others, especially since 2015. Academics grapple with how immigration detention operates, immigrants and advocates routinely challenge aspects of confinement with varying degrees of success, journalists disclose salient features of immigration detention, and policymakers occasionally engage in internal examinations of their own government’s detention practices. Regardless of the source, these critiques have created a growing body of literature about immigration detention. This article groups selected discussions of immigration detention into broad categories: Statutes, Litigation, Conditions of Confinement, the use of Private Prisons to detain suspected immigration law violators, and Policy Development and Growth of immigration detention as a governmental policy. It also identifies works that provide a general overview of immigration detention.

General Overviews

Despite immigration detention’s prominent role in the modern immigration law enforcement regime, the literature covering the range of features that this type of confinement entails remained limited before 2015. Among the scholarship published before that year, Wilsher 2012 discusses immigration detention in the context of obligations imposed on states by international human rights norms and liberal principles of legality. Since then, Nethery and Silverman 2015 and Guia, et al. 2016 stand among the most thorough book-length treatments of immigration detention, collecting multiple analyses from scholars and advocates grounded in various disciplines that touch on practices throughout the world

  • Guia, Maria João, Robert Koulish, and Valsamis Mitsilegas, eds. Immigration Detention, Risk and Human Rights: Studies on Immigration and Crime. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2016.

    Focused on immigration detention in Europe, this volume’s theoretical and legal analyses also address practices in the United States and Brazil.

  • Nethery, Amy, and Stephanie J. Silverman, eds. Immigration Detention: The Migration of a Policy and Its Human Impact. Abingdon, UK, and New York: Routledge, 2015.

    Critical analyses of immigration detention in numerous countries in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America that reveal the policy’s pervasiveness. Collectively, the volume is explicitly described as “in the service of reining in the spread of immigration detention” (p. vii).

  • Wilsher, Daniel. Immigration Detention: Law, History, Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    Thorough study of the expansion of immigration detention, especially as it applies to unauthorized migrants. Addresses the role of international human rights law in overseeing or limiting the use of immigration detention; looks at the extent to which immigration detention centers are extralegal geographic spaces; and questions whether widespread use of immigration detention conforms to liberal states’ adherence to the rule of law.

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