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).

Annually, 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 towards tips from the United Nations Excessive Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), many of those girls and their underage youngsters usually 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 cross 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 right this moment are based mostly on deterrence slightly than human rights (Gammeltoft-Hansen and Tan 2017, 28), and the confinement of refugees has grow to be a standard apply internationally. The second subject, additionally a world apply, is the inclusion of personal actors within the migration administration enviornment, from Australia paying non-public corporations 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 approach, firms revenue from the confinement of populations fleeing violence.

Paloma[1] had been within the immigration detention middle for 4 days after I met her. Whereas in confinement, she and her youngsters 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 point out me the model’s identify, 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 factor of latest border management: privatized confinement. Specifically, I take a look at the detention expertise that girls like Paloma need to face when in search of asylum. Third World girls 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] in search of 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 corporations, and now the border has grow to be an assemblage of various practices that nations train past the boundaries of their territories.

These assemblage of elements and discourses that impede those that search asylum in nations within the world north are known 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 firms. Like in Paloma’s case, these corporations obtain cash from the federal government for every individual they preserve confined. On this approach, states cooperate with non-public actors to hold out their work. These public-private agreements enhance restrictive migration management insurance policies, ensuing within the creation of a transnational assemblage that extends past particular person nations and impedes refugees from reaching secure shores.

Whereas I concentrate on the US, I discuss with different examples within the Anglosphere, as practices journey by way of massive firms. This chapter has 4 elements. First, I element how I mix a transnational feminist framework with ethnographic work performed 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, right this moment, girls’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 youngsters in search of asylum. There’s a historical past of dehumanizing discourses from folks within the world north that legitimize practices comparable to migration confinement. In closing, I argue that the inclusion of personal actors is paramount to the creation of a transnational assemblage that comprises folks within the world south, whereas it transforms states into profit-making apparatuses that comply with a neoliberal logic.

Transnational Feminism and Ethnographic Work on the Border

By means of an engagement with transnational feminism, I search so as to add ethnographic proof to the methods through 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 individuals from the worldwide south have traditionally skilled. My explicit concentrate on how these practices have an effect on displaced girls 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 software for anti-colonial wrestle and takes into consideration how dimensions of identification – comparable to race, class, sexuality or capability – journey throughout borders (Briggs, McCormick, and Manner 2008; Sudbury 2005). Drawing on the insights of Third World girls and women-of-color feminism and activism, transnational feminism relies on intersectionality and the pluralization of feminist politics that contests the essentializing concept of a world 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 wish to lengthen 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 folks, discourses, nations, economies and practices (Herr 2014), it’s notably effectively suited to make connections between colonial and neocolonial relations (see, as an illustration, 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 illustration, in the US, Central People 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 grow to be 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 right this moment are a results of years of colonialism and neoliberalism which have traditionally exploited folks of colour. Nonetheless, neoliberalism doesn’t solely exploit girls 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 carried out by way of confining them in privatized detention facilities. Neoliberalism has given place and area to the privatization of many constructions and processes throughout the planet, together with migration administration practices that happen all over the world. 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 studies and ethnographic work. The empirical analysis for this research was performed in 2016 at an immigration detention middle situated 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 Firms of America) – that has contracted with the federal authorities. Authorized advocates on this facility supply their providers on a volunteer foundation and will not be contractually engaged or obliged by the federal government or different authorities to assist detainees. Along with conducting interviews with the authorized advocates and volunteering within the middle to assist detainees, my analysis concerned participant commentary 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 Eighties, detention as a governing immigration apply was ‘largely an advert hoc software 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 passed off principally after the Eighties. Inside border securitization, confinement right this moment has grow to be one of many key components in detention and thus within the administration of migrant and refugee populations. The origins of confinement as a standard apply 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 relies on the concept that migrants are potential threats – to safety, tradition, the economic system – and justifies the confinement of any international inhabitants. Immigration detention facilities, comparable to 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 firms. 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 components that facilitates the homogenizing of detention regimes on this planet is the truth that most of the similar massive, for-profit firms 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 several nations. The worldwide safety companies 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. In the course of the 2018 fiscal 12 months, a each day common of 42,188 migrants have been held by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement 2019). ‘I really feel like every month, the variety of folks [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 all the short-term holding services – are run by multinational, for-profit corporations; within the US, for-profit corporations management greater than half of all detention mattress areas (Sinha 2016, 83); and in Australia, all immigration detention facilities are run by non-public corporations (Bacon 2005, 3; Simonds and Wright 2017). 

Neoliberalism has been a key function within the growth of the immigration and refugee detention system (Doty and Wheatley 2013, 434). Personal and non-state actors have steadily entered the border management enviornment, together with by way of detention and elimination (Abbott and Snidal 2009; Menz 2011). Inside immigration and refugee administration, many logistical providers, comparable to 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. ‘After they arrive right here, they take away their belongings and so they 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 making the most of the confinement of this folks’. Equally, different corporations revenue from the non-public administration of the jail, comparable to the corporate accountable for meals providers, upkeep, training, well being providers, the bail business and so forth (Austin and Coventry 2001; Henderson 2015; Requarth 2019). There was work carried out 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 folks have been conscious of how a lot it prices them to have these girls and their youngsters detained, they might most likely be towards it’, says Rosa, one other authorized advocate that has been working within the middle for over two years. As we speak within the US, 9 out of the ten greatest ICE immigration detention facilities are privately managed, making 62 % of all ICE immigration beds operated by non-public firms. Of this quantity, the GEO Group and CoreCivic function a mixed 72 % of the privately contracted ICE immigration beds (Flynn 2016a, 184). Often, counties cost ICE above each day value, 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 monthly to detain girls and youngsters on the South Texas Household Detention Middle, no matter what number of girls and youngsters are literally held (Detention Watch Community 2015a). Dana factors out: ‘It shouldn’t be an financial subject, however one straight associated to human rights. It’s not proper to restrict girls and youngsters which can be fleeing from violence’. But the explanations for confining them are purely financial. CoreCivic and GEO are two very worthwhile corporations which have expanded their share of the non-public immigrant detention business from 37 to 45 % 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 % throughout this similar interval (2007–2014) (Sinha 2016, 92).

As well as, CoreCivic owns a subsidiary known 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 reveals 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 firms (Conlon and Hiemstra 2014). Although these corporations have generated revenue over time, a few of them produce other actions that aren’t solely associated to immigrant and refugee detention comparable to 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 corporations would most actually not be investing in that sector. As well as, information reveals that, in the US, options to detention would save the federal authorities some huge cash, as some options value between 70 cents and $17 per individual per day compared to the $159 that ICE at the moment spends (Nationwide Immigrant Justice Middle 2017).

Does privatizing migrant detention facilities really enhance 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 accessible 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 unbiased of the variety of beds which can be crammed. As a result of ICE’s pursuits will not be the identical because the non-public detention facilities’ – which might most likely get monetary savings with fewer folks confined so long as they acquired their assured minimums – ICE is motivated to detain as many individuals as potential in services with assured minimums to keep away from the looks of inefficiency. These assured minimums affect ICE’s selections as to how many individuals to restrict, the place to restrict them and for a 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 illustration, firms 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 firms 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 might be seen on the try and cross Arizona’s Senate Invoice 1070, additionally know because the ‘present me your papers legislation’, which permits cops to examine the immigration standing of individuals they believe are undocumented immigrants. With this legislation handed in 2010, the variety of detained folks, and thus the variety of detained folks in non-public immigration detention facilities, elevated (Hernández-León 2013, 39). CoreCivic/CCA, GEO, jail lobbyists and firms gave monetary backing to most of the politicians campaigning for its legislative approval – the 1070 invoice was co-sponsored by 36 folks, and 30 of these acquired marketing campaign contributions from non-public jail firms (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 companies (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 approach, the market logic transforms sovereign regimes by way of, as an illustration, the inducement to restrict folks. Financial and authorized incentives – such because the necessary mattress quotas – to lock up folks have resulted into increased confinement charges. Authors comparable to 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 enhance, the ‘output’, in addition to the income of migration management, enhance. On this approach, non-public actors affect the state by way of the inducement to restrict folks, and thus firms revenue from detained populations. As well as, the confinement of non-citizens reinforces the picture of asylum-seekers as criminals that should be punished and whose eligibility for citizenship must be questioned (Conlon and Gill 2013; Skodo 2017).

Neoliberalism and Neocolonialism

‘Many of those girls 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, girls 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 right this moment. The failure to acknowledge the constitutive position of colonial exploitation in up to date neoliberalism results in weak representations of what’s occurring right this moment in regard to the confinement of asylum-seekers. The Western world has an extended historical past of confining and exploiting the our bodies of ladies and other people of colour. 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’ slightly 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 firms extract wealth from asylum-seekers’ our bodies (Mavhunga 2011, 152). Despite the fact that there are options to immigrant detention (Sampson 2019), confining refugees in non-public services is a extra profitable enterprise than having folks 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 take into account 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 generally known 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 with regards 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 folks as plagues threatening to destroy every part and thus justifying the confinement and isolation of sure teams. 

These beforehand dehumanized our bodies thus grow to be commodities for alternate – or for retaining – 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 extremely 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 firms controlling the detention, transportation and visa processing (amongst different issues) of migrants and refugees, duties that have 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 approach, the privatization of migration administration highlights how the non-public and public spheres cooperate with one another. Not solely does it enable 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, girls who search asylum are topic to exploitation each of their nations of origin and as soon as they attain their locations. By means of the confinement of the refugee inhabitants, non-public detention facilities are profiting out of the our bodies of individuals of colour 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 menace that requires environment friendly administration slightly than topics whose remedy deserves accountability. 

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


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

[2] This epigraph relies on a narrative that was instructed to me throughout an interview I performed with a member of the NGO employees working on the immigration detention middle on the US-Mexico border. I discuss 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 discuss with former colonial powers, specifically, Australia, the European Union and the US. I perceive these phrases are broad and contested. For a full dialogue on the which means of World South, see The World South Journal Vol. 11 No 2. 2017 particular subject: ‘The World South as Subversive Apply’.


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Additional Studying on E-Worldwide Relations