Detention Power: American Jails and the Origins of Immigrant Incarceration


ACLS Fellowship Program




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.