The Archipelago of Detention

No crime means no police. What makes the presence and control of the police tolerable for the population, if not fear of the criminal? This institution of the police, which is so recent and so oppressive, is only justified by that fear. If we accept the presence in our midst of these uninformed men, who have the exclusive right to carry arms, who demand our papers, who come and prowl on our doorsteps, how would any of this be possible if there were no criminals?

-Michael Foucault, Prison Talk

When the immigration question is framed as a matter of law-breaking, the inevitable result is the criminalization of migrant workers and families which feeds into the migrant-prison-industrial complex.

In a recent article published in La Prensa, Ali Noorani-Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum (,– subscribes to the dangerous ‘rule of law’ discourse that criminalizes undocumented workers and their families.  The ‘enforcement-mantra’ of the mainstream DC organizations holds that comprehensive immigration reform is key to holding undocumented workers accountable and ensuring that U.S. security is not compromised:

Only through a controlled legalization of those who meet certain criteria can we hope to isolate those few immigrants hiding under the radar that may wish to do us harm or take unfair advantage of our generosity.
Combining an enforceable immigration system with effective, targeted enforcement is the only way we can achieve an immigration system consistent with American values. We must reestablish the rule of law by fixing our immigration system and then enforcing the heck out of it. This is how we regain control, create an even playing field for all workers in the economy, and ensure that workers and employers who play by the rules will be rewarded rather than undercut.


This ‘rule of law’ discourse is devoid of the fact that many immigrants fell out of status by trying to follow the rules. Moreover, a quick study of the new ‘comprehensive immigration reform’ discourse and agenda citing President Obama in ABC News ( would tell one that it hardly applies to the horror of immigrant detention camps–the Guantonomizing of America ( The  heterosexualized concept of immigrant ‘family unity’ ( stops just outside the immigrant-detention complex.

In a recent report named Jailed Without Justice, Amnesty USA ( found the number of immigrants held in detention camps had tripled from 10,000 in 1996 to 30,000 in 2008, with the numbers likely to increase this year. The ‘rule of law’ discourse somehow forgets that the migrants detained in these archipelagos of detention constitute not only ‘criminal aliens’ but asylum seekers, unaccompanied minors, legal permanent residents, and survivors of torture and human trafficking. And they probably would not benefit from any sort of ‘comprehensive immigration reform.’

The gender dynamics of immigrant detention are also unavoidable. See studies by Human Rights Watch and Southwest Institute for Research on Women, that highlight the mistreatment, lack of prenatal care, and other serious medical conditions that migrant women undergo while under detention. And these are women who have committed no crimes nor pose any flight risk.

As this country moves towards reforms via legalization, it is important to pay attention to the gross, inhumane violations of human rights in our immigrant detention facilities. Not engaging in dialogue and action about the creation of these achipelagos of detention would certainly not amount to ‘just and humane’ immigration reform.

No Borders – Open Borders Network – Links

Compiled a list of No Borders / Open Borders advocacy around the world, ranging from the intellectuals to actual organizations and action groups. The no borders denotes freedom of migration and alternatives to detention/deportation NOT open borders for capital.

Just a start. Feel free to add.

Check out this fascinating site – MigMap Europe.

“We are just private individuals here, with no other grounds for speaking, or for speaking together, than a certain shared difficulty in enduring what is taking place. … there’s not much we can do about the reasons why some men and women would rather leave their country than live in it. The fact is beyond our reach. Who appointed us, then? No one. And that is precisely what constitutes our right.”

– Michel Foucault

Study: Global Migration Boosts Economy

A new study by the Center for International Migration and Integration (CIMI), a department of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) finds that the migration of people from their birthplace to an alternative country is greater than ever before and helps build up a strong global economy,

Publish in the Jerusalem Post on September 09, 2008:

According to the statistics collected by CIMI, which worked together with the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, there are currently 192 million immigrants worldwide, some three percent of the population.

In addition, the study found that the global flow of people to different nations creates surprising economic benefits and generates roughly $315 million worldwide a year.

“In contradiction to widely held opinions that immigration is a financial burden on a country, even experience here in Israel shows the benefits new immigrants can have on a nation,” said Arnon Mantver, JDC-Israel’s director-general and Chairman of CIMI.

Foucault on Geography and Population

“One might wonder, as a conceit or a hypothesis, whether geographical knowledge doesn’t carry within itself the circle of the frontier, whether this be a national, departmental or cantonal frontier; and hence, whether one shouldn’t add to the figures of internment you have indicated–that of the madmen, the criminal, the patient, the proletariat–the national internment of the citizen-soldier. Wouldn’t we have here a space of confinement which is both infinitely vaster and less hermetic”

Foucault: That’s a very appealing notion. And the inmate, in your view, would be a national man? Because the geographical discourse which justifies frontiers is that of nationalism?”

(Questions on Geography, Power/Knowledge)

I think the question can be seen assuming and also leading us towards a carceral archipelago–how a punitive system is physically dispersed and yet covers the entirety of society. One of the topics I really want to cover on this blog in the near future is Foucault’s concept of the ‘apparatuses of security’ and how they are applicable to our society. In liberal societies and the liberal international order, we are led to believe that our ‘freedoms’ require ‘apparatuses of security.’ As Foucault states, “Freedom is nothing else but the correlative of apparatuses of security.”

Stemming from this is my concern about the ‘archipelago of detention,’ especially concerning the increasing confinement of mobility regarding migrant bodies–bodies that are constructed and labeled as ‘criminal.’

Foucault also lays out a population/people distinction in Security, Territory and Population that is worthy of further exploration. Population has two meanings — one denotes a group of subjects with rights or subjects to a sovereign etc. but the one we are interested in is population as a process that needs regulation and management, a process that correlates with the awareness of the ‘public’ and maybe even the sharp binaries of citizen/non-citizen. Now, while Foucault poses the question of the ‘inmate’ as the “national man” and that is true since borders, citizenship and nationality are all confinements, I do want to focus on the (bi)(trans)(multi)-national Others as inmates, both literally and figuratively. And I don’t think we can leave economics out of the picture.

This post here – Documenting the ‘birth’ of illegal immigration, while not perfect, serves as a start and historical background in terms of the United States context.

Lost in Translation – Migrant Students Navigating the American Education System

I came across this blog through a Google Alert yesterday and it holds a lot of potential. Basically, the ‘owner’ is gearing up to get migrant students from his school to blog about their experiences, to tell their stories and helped by a grant from AILF. They may also blog in languages besides English (YES PLEASE). The idea has a lot of potential and I am looking forward to hearing some stories.

I don’t think I have ever written about my experiences as a LEGAL immigrant student at an American public high school. I would rather not revisit that period of my life. First, my counselor put me in a grade that I had already completed back in Fiji (10) not due to any scores but due to my ‘age’ – I discovered later that he did not need to do that. THEN, instead of placing me in tough honors classes since I tested above 12+, I was placed in almost-remedial activities like P.E., Art, English-P, Intro to Biology … I tried making up for this in Grades 11 and 12 when it became clear that the material I was learning seemed like Grade 6 in Fiji. The saving grace was the new policy debate program and Ethnic Studies that became the starting point of my activism and radical roots. Lets not launch into a discussion about how I found American students to be superficial and materialistic, not to mention culturally insensitive for making fun of my accent, Payless shoes and simple attire. Well, it still beat the rampant homophobia I experienced in Fiji so I ain’t complaining.

Sorry for the diatribe. It would be great if everyone with a pro-migrant and/or DREAM blog could put up a link to it sooner or later as it develops.

Also, feel free to bring to my attention other new sites or projects that are pro-migrant.