The Emerging Movement to Confront Immigrant Detention in the United States: Strategic Challenges and Possibilities for Social Change

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 15:15
Oral Presentation
Eric POPKIN, Colorado College, USA
Since the election of Donald Trump, U.S. immigration policy has increasingly emphasized the broadening of categories of immigrants eligible for removal. This drive has led to increased reliance on the detention of asylum seekers (including families) entering at the U.S.-Mexican border with Mexico and immigrants residing elsewhere in the country due to the aggressive implementation of interior enforcement tied to the further criminalization of immigration policy. Prolonged detention due to more limited possibilities to obtain bond/parole and poor conditions in facilities have led to an upsurge in challenges to the detention of immigrants in the U.S. This paper examines this emerging movement of lawyers, immigrant rights activists, and concerned citizens confronting immigrant detention emphasizing the possibilities and limitations of this effort. Specifically, the paper explores how these activists view their work (strategies/practice), assesses the possibilities for significant policy or social change, and considers the challenges confronted in the context of this work. The paper relies on semi - structured interviews with leaders within key organizations affiliated with this effort including the Innovation Law Lab (“transformative lawyering” effort based in Portland, OR.), the Southern Poverty Law Center (and affiliate project, the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative with offices in Montgomery Ala., Atlanta, Ocilla, and Lumpkin, Georgia), and the American Immigration Council (facilitating the CARA network) and Detention Watch Network (coalition of organizations) based in Washington DC. The research demonstrates that important gains have occurred though the effort confronts serious challenges including: consensus among Democratic and Republican parties on the utility of immigrant detention, an increasing reliance on privatization of immigrant detention facilities supported by policy makers, a lack of substantial collaboration between movement participants and criminal justice activists/organizations emphasizing disproportionate imprisonment levels of the African-American population, and the lack of a unified agenda with prominent refugee rights organizations within the U.S.