Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type



Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Anna Secor


This dissertation examines how US immigrant family detention policy emerged from reinvigorated border security priorities, immigration policing practices, and international migration flows. Based on a qualitative mixed methods approach, the research traces how discourses of threat, vulnerability, and safety produce detainable child and parent subjects that displace “the family” as a legal entity. I show that immigration law relies on specific kinds of geographical knowledge, producing what I call the ‘geopolitics of vulnerability.’ More broadly, I analyze how current immigration enforcement practices work at local, national, and international scales, so that detention deters future migration as much as it penalizes existing undocumented migrants. Tracing how legal categorization, isolation, criminalization, and forced mobility discipline detained families, I show how detention bears down on migrant networks, defying individualized and national scalings of immigration law. Family detention, like the broader detention system, is authorized through overlapping forms of administrative discretion, and I analyze how the “plenary doctrine of immigration” resonates with ICE’s discretionary authority. Finally, I trace how immigrant rights advocates mobilizes conceptions of “home-like” and “prison-like” facilities, and how ICE reimagined its “residential” facilities in response. Empirically and theoretically, my project contributes the first academic study of US family detention to research on kinship, citizenship, security, geopolitics, and immigration enforcement.



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