Care and control in civil immigration detention
May 11, 2016
Since 2009, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has implemented supposedly progressive "civil detention" reforms to combat immigration detention’s now infamous civil and human rights record. These reforms focus heavily on providing "care" for detainees’ mental health, and this paper explores the overwhelming prescription of psychotropic medication to detained women at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington, a facility owned and operated by private prison contractor GEO Group. Using ethnographic findings, the author contests the uncritical acceptance of "civil" reforms as improvements, developing an abolitionist argument about the ways in which care-based reforms related to mental health refine and amplify architectures of control and marginalization in the detention center. Further, this paper troubles theoretical constructions of undocumented immigrants as a population marked for (social, political, or indirect) death by theorizing civil immigration detention as a regime of care. A growing body of critical care literature gives us ways to think about this unexpected investment in detainee life as the cultivation of a particular, circumscribed subjectivity. However, this paper expands on this understanding by analyzing how this regime of care is both compelled and contested by detainees. Detainees’ practices of resistance and re-politicization suggest strategies for organizing around detention abolition in line with feminist care theorists proposals to socialize an politicize care. While these findings are rooted in the particularities of the NWDC, our aim is to intervene in a critical moment in the growth of civil immigration detention governance, and to contribute to theorizations of care as a mechanism of control and marginalization in other contexts.
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