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Ladies for Revenue – Searching for Asylum in the US: A Neocolonial Story

That is an advance excerpt from Dignity in Motion: Borders, Our bodies and Rights, edited by Jasmin Lilian Diab (E-Worldwide Relations, forthcoming 2021).

Every year, hundreds of hetero-nuclear households cross the United States-Mexico border fleeing from the violence of their nations of origin and in search of asylum within the US. Despite the fact that locking up individuals who search asylum goes in opposition to pointers from the United Nations Excessive Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), many of those ladies and their underage kids typically find yourself confined in one of many household immigration detention facilities that exist within the US. They’re held on the immigration facilities till they move their credible worry interview with an asylum officer. This interview will decide whether or not they can enter the US or be deported. Two issues are vital to notice right here. First, migration regimes at the moment are based mostly on deterrence somewhat than human rights (Gammeltoft-Hansen and Tan 2017, 28), and the confinement of refugees has develop into a standard observe internationally. The second difficulty, additionally a worldwide observe, is the inclusion of personal actors within the migration administration enviornment, from Australia paying non-public firms to restrict asylum-seekers in nation-states like Nauru and Papua New Guinea, to the US, which locks refugees in privatized detention facilities on the border. On this means, companies revenue from the confinement of populations fleeing violence.

Paloma[1] had been within the immigration detention middle for 4 days once I met her. Whereas in confinement, she and her kids had been given garments and a room to share with different households. After I went to speak to her about her asylum interview, I requested her about her job in her native nation. Taking her hand to the again of her neck and pulling the tag of her t-shirt to indicate me the model’s title, she mentioned, ‘I used to work in a maquiladora for this firm. I made these t-shirts!’[2]

This chapter explores the connection between the state and the refugee by investigating one aspect of up to date border management: privatized confinement. Particularly, I take a look at the detention expertise that ladies like Paloma must face when in search of asylum. Third World ladies are topic to an infinite cycle of exploitation, first of their nations of origin after which as soon as they attain the worldwide north[3] searching for asylum. The inclusion of personal actors within the migration administration regime has been key for its growth across the globe. Neoliberalism has enabled the outsourcing of border practices to personal firms, and now the border has develop into an assemblage of various practices that nations train past the boundaries of their territories.

These assemblage of components and discourses that impede those that search asylum in nations within the world north are referred to as bordering mechanisms and might vary from border externalization measures to dehumanizing discourses about refugees. Migrant detention, visa processing, border surveillance, transportation of detained migrants, offshore processing and so forth have all been privatized and are managed by companies. Like in Paloma’s case, these firms obtain cash from the federal government for every particular person they hold confined. On this means, states cooperate with non-public actors to hold out their work. These public-private agreements improve restrictive migration management insurance policies, ensuing within the creation of a transnational assemblage that extends past particular person nations and impedes refugees from reaching protected shores.

Whereas I deal with the US, I consult with different examples within the Anglosphere, as practices journey by way of huge companies. This chapter has 4 components. First, I element how I mix a transnational feminist framework with ethnographic work carried out in a detention middle on the US-Mexico border. A transnational feminist lens permits us to attach world financial constructions and their on-the-ground results. Second, I element how non-public detention grew to become a related plan of action within the migration administration regime and the neoliberal entanglements that join non-public pursuits to public issues. Third, I argue that, at the moment, ladies’s our bodies are each exploited of their nations of origin and thru confinement practices. Moreover, I declare that discourses are important for sustaining practices, such because the confinement of ladies and kids searching for asylum. There’s a historical past of dehumanizing discourses from individuals within the world north that legitimize practices resembling migration confinement. In closing, I argue that the inclusion of personal actors is paramount to the creation of a transnational assemblage that incorporates individuals within the world south, whereas it transforms states into profit-making apparatuses that observe a neoliberal logic.

Transnational Feminism and Ethnographic Work on the Border

Via an engagement with transnational feminism, I search so as to add ethnographic proof to the methods by which borders are constructed as violent areas that reinforce racialized neocolonial ideologies. A transnational feminist lens attracts consideration to the lengthy lineage of violence that folks from the worldwide south have traditionally skilled. My explicit deal with how these practices have an effect on displaced ladies each challenges the concept of borders as areas of safety and evidences the ‘present-day neocolonial world hierarchy’ (Herr 2014, 8).

Transnational feminism is a instrument for anti-colonial wrestle and takes into consideration how dimensions of identification – resembling race, class, sexuality or potential – journey throughout borders (Briggs, McCormick, and Manner 2008; Sudbury 2005). Drawing on the insights of Third World ladies and women-of-color feminism and activism, transnational feminism is predicated on intersectionality and the pluralization of feminist politics that contests the essentializing thought of a worldwide sisterhood. It’s a framework that has been very productive in exploring political solidarity actions throughout the globe (Parikh 2017), in addition to cross-border organizing (Desai 2005). On this chapter, I need to prolong its use from the research of various scales of activism to the exploration of the neocolonial construction of the migration administration system that guidelines the worldwide north. I analyze how the our bodies of ladies who search asylum find yourself exploited by the neoliberal constructions of privatized immigration detention facilities.

Since a transnational feminist framework illustrates a matrix of relationships between individuals, discourses, nations, economies and practices (Herr 2014), it’s notably properly suited to make connections between colonial and neocolonial relations (see, as an example, Lemberg-Pedersen 2019). This technique pays consideration to explicit historic and political contexts and the way the inter-relations of every of those areas allow up to date types of racialized stereotyping of sure teams – as an example, in the US, Central Individuals are considered as criminals, smugglers, drug sellers and gang members (Riva 2017). These stereotypes are constructed upon years of militarism, imperialism and geopolitical intervention formed by neocolonial racialized ideologies and develop into seen on the border. These dehumanizing discourses legitimize practices, such because the confinement of refugees. A transnational feminist lens illuminates how the actual racial formations that we encounter at the moment are a results of years of colonialism and neoliberalism which have traditionally exploited individuals of shade. Nevertheless, neoliberalism doesn’t solely exploit ladies of their nations of origin – by way of labor processes – but in addition, the system income from those that search asylum as soon as they attain the US. That is achieved by way of confining them in privatized detention facilities. Neoliberalism has given place and house to the privatization of many constructions and processes throughout the planet, together with migration administration practices that happen around the globe. A transnational feminist evaluation takes into consideration world financial constructions, legal-juridical oppression (Grewal and Kaplan 1994) and their on-the-ground results.

This chapter is the results of crucial engagement with secondary literature, educational writing, evaluation of reports accounts, legal guidelines and stories and ethnographic work. The empirical analysis for this research was carried out in 2016 at an immigration detention middle positioned in south Texas the place I interviewed authorized advocates working for a non-profit group whereas I labored as a volunteer myself. The detention facility is owned and managed by a non-public jail company – CoreCivic (previously Corrections Companies of America) – that has contracted with the federal authorities. Authorized advocates on this facility supply their providers on a volunteer foundation and are usually not contractually engaged or obliged by the federal government or different authorities to help detainees. Along with conducting interviews with the authorized advocates and volunteering within the middle to help detainees, my analysis concerned participant statement analysis strategies and a crucial engagement with secondary literature. Such methodologies assist in understanding the on a regular basis realities of those that search asylum whereas in detention.

Neoliberal Entanglements

‘For every lady detained right here, the corporate that runs the jail receives cash from the federal government’, says Dana, one of many authorized advocates that works within the detention middle as a volunteer. As in lots of detention facilities within the US, the one the place I did my fieldwork had been privatized. Earlier than the Nineteen Eighties, detention as a governing immigration observe was ‘largely an advert hoc instrument employed primarily by rich states in exigent circumstances that sometimes made use of prisons, warehouses, resort rooms or different “off-the-shelf” services’ (Flynn 2014, 167). Thus, the commodification of migrant detention came about principally after the Nineteen Eighties. Inside border securitization, confinement at the moment has develop into one of many key parts in detention and thus within the administration of migrant and refugee populations. The origins of confinement as a standard observe in immigration governance are linked to the securitization of migration (Bigo 2002; Huysmans 2006; Mountz 2011). After 9/11, border safety merged and have become the middle of nationwide safety (Golash-Boza 2016; Longo 2018, 3). The securitization rhetoric is predicated on the concept that migrants are potential threats – to safety, tradition, the economic system – and justifies the confinement of any overseas inhabitants. Immigration detention facilities, resembling Campsfield in Oxford, United Kingdom; the South Texas Household Residential Middle, in Texas, US; and the Curtin Immigration Reception and Processing Centre in Australia, are run by non-public companies. Excessive instances of offshore, privately run processing facilities are those Australia has contracted with Papua New Guinea and Nauru; or the one the US has in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba (Frenzen 2010, 392).

One of many parts that facilitates the homogenizing of detention regimes on the planet is the truth that lots of the similar huge, for-profit companies run a lot of the non-public prisons in most nations of the worldwide north. That is one means by way of which methods of confinement are subtle in numerous nations. The worldwide safety corporations that foyer and bid for contracts to develop the brand new applied sciences and infrastructures of border enforcement (Gammeltoft-Hansen 2013; Hernández-León 2013; Lemberg-Pedersen 2013; Menz 2013), deliberately or not, homogenize the regimes of border management. Through the 2018 fiscal yr, a each day common of 42,188 migrants had been held by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement 2019). ‘I really feel like every month, the variety of individuals [detained] retains rising’, says Flora, one other authorized advocate that works as a professional bono lawyer within the middle. A number of examples supply a broad overview of how neoliberalism has reached completely different locations by way of the privatization of detention facilities: within the UK, seven out of the 9 immigrant detention facilities – and the entire short-term holding services – are run by multinational, for-profit firms; within the US, for-profit firms management greater than half of all detention mattress areas (Sinha 2016, 83); and in Australia, all immigration detention facilities are run by non-public firms (Bacon 2005, 3; Simonds and Wright 2017). 

Neoliberalism has been a key characteristic within the growth of the immigration and refugee detention system (Doty and Wheatley 2013, 434). Non-public and non-state actors have regularly entered the border management enviornment, together with by way of detention and removing (Abbott and Snidal 2009; Menz 2011). Inside immigration and refugee administration, many logistical providers, resembling transportation of migrants and asylum-seekers, clothes and meals provision and phone service in detention facilities, airborne deportation operations, processing of visa functions, safety, jail administration, drone vigilance and so forth, have been privatized. ‘Once they arrive right here, they take away their belongings they usually give them these horrible garments’, says Flora, pointing on the t-shirts the ladies put on, ‘This [the company who makes the clothes] is yet one more firm cashing in on the confinement of this individuals’. Equally, different firms revenue from the non-public administration of the jail, resembling the corporate accountable for meals providers, upkeep, training, well being providers, the bail trade and so forth (Austin and Coventry 2001; Henderson 2015; Requarth 2019). There was work achieved on how the privatization of prisons has led to understaffed facilities, with much less coaching, fewer advantages, excessive charges of worker turnover, extra accidents and discouragement from organizing in commerce unions (Binder 2017; Clark 2016; Eisen 2017; Sudbury 2005; Wrenn 2016).

In the US, confining migrants and asylum-seekers in detention facilities prices taxpayers roughly $2 billion every year (Sinha 2016, 85; Williams 2015, 12). ‘If individuals had been conscious of how a lot it prices them to have these ladies and their kids detained, they might most likely be in opposition to it’, says Rosa, one other authorized advocate that has been working within the middle for over two years. Right this moment within the US, 9 out of the ten greatest ICE immigration detention facilities are privately managed, making 62 p.c of all ICE immigration beds operated by non-public companies. Of this quantity, the GEO Group and CoreCivic function a mixed 72 p.c of the privately contracted ICE immigration beds (Flynn 2016a, 184). Sometimes, counties cost ICE above each day price, successfully utilizing immigration detainees to fund jails and different county providers (Martin 2019, 246). As well as, a Washington Publish investigation discovered that CoreCivic receives $20 million per 30 days to detain ladies and kids on the South Texas Household Detention Middle, no matter what number of ladies and kids are literally held (Detention Watch Community 2015a). Dana factors out: ‘It shouldn’t be an financial difficulty, however one straight associated to human rights. It’s not proper to restrict ladies and kids which can be fleeing from violence’. But the explanations for confining them are purely financial. CoreCivic and GEO are two very worthwhile firms which have expanded their share of the non-public immigrant detention trade from 37 to 45 p.c in simply 2014. CoreCivic’s income elevated from $133,373,000 in 2007 to $195,022,000 in 2014, and the corporate has obtained a $1 billion contract with the US Division of Homeland Safety (Garbus 2019). Equally, GEO’s income elevated by 244 p.c throughout this similar interval (2007–2014) (Sinha 2016, 92).

As well as, CoreCivic owns a subsidiary referred to as TransCor America, LLC, which is the biggest prisoner transportation firm in the US. TransCor generated $4.4 million in 2014 and $2.6 million in 2016. This exhibits that the development to denationalise detention facilities and its providers, mixed with the rise in immigrant and asylum-seeking detention serves the pursuits of personal companies (Conlon and Hiemstra 2014). Even if these firms have generated revenue over time, a few of them produce other actions that aren’t solely associated to immigrant and refugee detention resembling cleansing, data expertise and parking administration providers. Thus, it’s exhausting to understand how a lot revenue they earned from every space of enterprise. In any case, if jail administration weren’t a worthwhile enterprise, these firms would most actually not be investing in that sector. As well as, information exhibits that, in the US, alternate options to detention would save the federal authorities some huge cash, as some alternate options price between 70 cents and $17 per particular person per day compared to the $159 that ICE at the moment spends (Nationwide Immigrant Justice Middle 2017).

Does privatizing migrant detention facilities truly improve the variety of detainees?In 2009, the Obama administration established a compulsory detention mattress quota that required the Division of Homeland Safety to have as much as 34,000 beds obtainable each day for immigration detention. Anita Sinha (2016, 82) argues that ‘quotas usually have demonstratively compelled motion’, and on this case, it has confirmed to be true, because the necessary mattress quota resulted in a rise within the variety of detainees (Flynn 2016b; García Hernández 2015). The best way this quota contributes to the rise of migrant detention is thru the assured minimums that ICE is required to pay contractors, no matter how many individuals are detained. Contractors obtain a set cost from ICE impartial of the variety of beds which can be crammed. As a result of ICE’s pursuits are usually not the identical because the non-public detention facilities’ – which might most likely lower your expenses with fewer individuals confined so long as they acquired their assured minimums – ICE is motivated to detain as many individuals as doable in services with assured minimums to keep away from the looks of inefficiency. These assured minimums affect ICE’s choices as to how many individuals to restrict, the place to restrict them and for the way lengthy (Detention Watch Community 2015b, a).

Our present neoliberal system encourages public-private partnerships that financially incentivize will increase in refugee detention. In the US, as an example, companies attempt to make income by way of collaborating with political actors who favor transferring immigration capabilities from the federal to the state stage. In that vein, Tania Golash-Boza (2009) has linked companies that revenue from the incarceration of migrants to conservative commentators and politicians as half of a giant advanced of more and more privatized management. An instance of this direct connection could be seen on the try and move Arizona’s Senate Invoice 1070, additionally know because the ‘present me your papers legislation’, which permits law enforcement officials to test the immigration standing of individuals they think are undocumented immigrants. With this legislation handed in 2010, the variety of detained individuals, and thus the variety of detained individuals in non-public immigration detention facilities, elevated (Hernández-León 2013, 39). CoreCivic/CCA, GEO, jail lobbyists and corporations gave monetary backing to lots of the politicians campaigning for its legislative approval – the 1070 invoice was co-sponsored by 36 individuals, and 30 of these acquired marketing campaign contributions from non-public jail companies (Doty and Wheatley 2013, 429; Feltz and Baksh 2012). Lobbying for incarceration legal guidelines turns into a part of the profit-maximizing technique for these non-public corporations (Corridor and Coyne 2013; Wrenn 2016). Previous to the final election, GEO gave $225,000 to a Trump political motion committee. Moreover, CoreCivic and GEO each contributed $250,000 to President Trump’s inauguration (Garbus 2019).

A transnational feminist framework illuminates how non-public actors produce new energy constructions that echo colonialism. The inclusion of those actors additionally influences, shapes and even hardens detention methods, to the extent that revenue is extracted from each marginal migrant who goes to detention. On this means, the market logic transforms sovereign regimes by way of, as an example, the inducement to restrict individuals. Financial and authorized incentives – such because the necessary mattress quotas – to lock up individuals have resulted into greater confinement charges. Authors resembling Alison Mountz argue that detention and deportation are interlocking industries within the migration assemblage that generate revenue by way of the privatization of providers (Mountz et al. 2013). Thus, when each detention and deportation improve, the ‘output’, in addition to the income of migration management, improve. On this means, non-public actors affect the state by way of the inducement to restrict individuals, and thus companies revenue from detained populations. As well as, the confinement of non-citizens reinforces the picture of asylum-seekers as criminals that need to be punished and whose eligibility for citizenship ought to be questioned (Conlon and Gill 2013; Skodo 2017).

Neoliberalism and Neocolonialism

‘Many of those ladies labored in maquiladoras [clothing factories] earlier than they got here right here. They labored greater than 12 hours a day for us to put on the garments we put on’, says Rosa. Very very like in franchise colonialism, ladies within the world south are exploited for his or her labor and positioned in an interdependent financial relationship of uneven growth (Baker 2017, 146). These ongoing constructions of domination happen at the moment. The failure to acknowledge the constitutive position of colonial exploitation in up to date neoliberalism results in weak representations of what’s occurring at the moment in regard to the confinement of asylum-seekers. The Western world has a protracted historical past of confining and exploiting the our bodies of ladies and other people of shade. It’s not solely by way of the exploitative type of labor and useful resource extraction that characterised colonialism – echoed by Paloma’s instance of creating t-shirts in a maquiladora in her nation – that Western states revenue from postcolonial topics; right here revenue emerges from the applied sciences of exclusion themselves, the place passive, confined our bodies produce revenue from being ‘misplaced’ somewhat than by way of their labor. The demonized asylum-seeker is confined, and revenue is generated from the bodily care of her physique (housing, feeding, clothes and transporting it). That is how companies extract wealth from asylum-seekers’ our bodies (Mavhunga 2011, 152). Despite the fact that there are alternate options to immigrant detention (Sampson 2019), confining refugees in non-public services is a extra profitable enterprise than having individuals within the communities.

These materials practices of confinement are supported by discourses and applied sciences that conceptualize the refugee because the ‘invasive different’ (Ticktin 2017), what Martinican thinker Aimé Césaire (2000) known as (colonial) ‘thingification’. This dehumanizing imaginative and prescient of asylum-seekers can result in practices that think about them as issues, such because the settlement President Obama – later honored by President Trump – made with Prime Minister Turnbull to alternate refugees who had arrived in Australia with refugees who had arrived within the US, generally referred to as the ‘refugee swap’. Refugees and migrants fall into neocolonial methods of illustration the place they’re both victims to be saved, often by humanitarian organizations, or demonized by the media and politicians (Holohan 2019). The present rhetoric presents a picture of refugees as invaders that threaten the established order. There’s a lengthy colonial historical past of ideas and phrases like invasion, air pollution, dirtiness, bugs and infestation getting used metaphorically in reference to ‘undesirable’ populations, which are actually reappearing close to asylum-seekers. Clapperton Mavhunga (2011) writes in regards to the African colonial context and the way the usage of metaphors that linked the colonized to pests results in treating individuals as plagues threatening to destroy all the pieces and thus justifying the confinement and isolation of sure teams. 

These beforehand dehumanized our bodies thus develop into commodities for alternate – or for preserving – with a purpose to make a revenue. Locking up individuals who search asylum illuminates how world confinement methods work. As most refugees come from nations from the worldwide south, confinement is very racialized and might due to this fact be seen as part of the bigger racist system of mass incarceration (Cisneros 2016; Davis 1988; Davis 2011; Gilmore 2007). Punishment regimes are formed by neoliberalism and are substantively enforced by transnational companies controlling the detention, transportation and visa processing (amongst different issues) of migrants and refugees, duties that had been previously carried out by the state. The locking up of people that search asylum and belong to the worldwide south perpetuates a system that has colonial overtones whereas illuminating and implementing racialized ideologies (Sudbury 2005, xiii).


Over the past a number of years, neoliberalism has enabled non-public actors to enter the refugee administration regime. This has resulted in public-private partnerships, such because the privatization of migration detention facilities. By privatizing these services, the state creates an financial incentive to restrict individuals who search asylum. On this means, the privatization of migration administration highlights how the non-public and public spheres cooperate with one another. Not solely does it permit the state’s arm to succeed in additional, it additionally permits the state to be topic to much less accountability (Gammeltoft-Hansen 2015).

Utilizing a transnational feminist lens, I’ve analyzed how, by way of neoliberal processes, ladies who search asylum are topic to exploitation each of their nations of origin and as soon as they attain their locations. Via the confinement of the refugee inhabitants, non-public detention facilities are profiting out of the our bodies of individuals of shade in continuity with their operations abroad the place they’re exploited by way of labor processes. This course of is seamlessly built-in with the general public’s notion that refugees are a risk that requires environment friendly administration somewhat than topics whose therapy deserves accountability. 

The inclusion of personal actors on the one hand is paramount for the creation of a transnational assemblage that incorporates individuals within the world south, and alternatively, shapes sovereign regimes by remodeling them into profit-making apparatuses that observe a neoliberal logic.


[1] All names have been modified to guard interviewees’ identities.

[2] This epigraph is predicated on a narrative that was advised to me throughout an interview I carried out with a member of the NGO workers working on the immigration detention middle on the US-Mexico border. I consult with all interviewees utilizing pseudonyms, not their actual names all through this chapter. 

[3] I exploit ‘World South’ primarily to explain former colonies. Equally, I exploit ‘World North’ or Western nations, to consult with former colonial powers, particularly, Australia, the European Union and the US. I perceive these phrases are broad and contested. For a full dialogue on the that means of World South, see The World South Journal Vol. 11 No 2. 2017 particular difficulty: ‘The World South as Subversive Follow’.


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