In 2018, the United States detained immigrants at over 400 sites, ranging from county jails to office buildings to federal detention centers. “Detention Power” examines how this distinct system of administrative custody emerged, tracing its development from the era of the Chinese Exclusion Act to the era of ICE. This project demonstrates how the immigration bureaucracy fueled the expansion of the carceral state by creating new demand for jail space, partnering with local law enforcement to surveil and police migrants, and generating opportunities for towns to profit off the incarceration of immigrants. Through the records of presidential administrations, the immigration service, and legal aid groups, as well as sources from communities at the heart of the detention business, this project recasts deportation as a federal initiative impossible to carry out without local cooperation.


ACLS Fellowship Program, 2022


Detention Power: American Jails and the Origins of Immigrant Incarceration




This book project traces the US immigration service’s use of local jails from the era of Chinese Exclusion to the era of ICE, showing how the federal government relied on collaborations with cities and small towns to create the modern immigration detention system. Sheriffs and local law enforcement became critical partners in the project of deportation, campaigning for contracts to hold migrants in jails and sharing resources and data with immigration officials. By exchanging federal money for access to local jail space, these economic relationships transformed detained migrants into local commodities. This book excavates the web of political negotiations, financial deals, and legal precedents that enabled the US to rapidly expand its detention footprint across the 20th century.