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Forever Prisoners: How the United States Made the World’s Largest Immigrant Detention System

Forever Prisoners: How the United States Made the World’s Largest Immigrant Detention System

Author Elliott Young
Publisher Oxford University Press, USA
Publication Date 2021
Section US History
Type New
Format Hardcover
ISBN 9780190085957

Stories of non-US citizens caught in the jaws of the immigration bureaucracy and subject to indefinite detention are in the headlines daily. These men, women, and children remain almost completely without rights, unprotected by law and the Constitution, and their status as outsiders, even though many of have lived and worked in this country for years, has left them vulnerable to the most extreme forms of state power. Although the rhetoric surrounding these individuals is extreme, the US government has been locking up immigrants since the late nineteenth century, often for indefinite periods and with limited ability to challenge their confinement.

Forever Prisoners offers the first broad history of immigrant detention in the United States. Elliott Young focuses on five stories, including Chinese detained off the coast of Washington in the late 1880s, an "insane" Russian-Brazilian Jew caught on a ship shuttling between New York and South America during World War I, Japanese Peruvians kidnapped and locked up in a Texas jail during World War II, a prison uprising by Mariel Cuban refugees in 1987, and a Salvadoran mother who grew up in the United States and has spent years incarcerated while fighting deportation. Young shows how foreigners have been caged not just for immigration violations, but also held in state and federal prisons for criminal offenses, in insane asylums for mental illness, as enemy aliens in INS facilities, and in refugee camps. Since the 1980s, the conflation of criminality with undocumented migrants has given rise to the most extensive system of immigrant incarceration in the nation's history. Today over half a million immigrants are caged each year, some serving indefinite terms in what has become the world's most extensive immigrant detention system. And yet, Young finds, the rate of all forms of incarceration for immigrants was as high in the early twentieth century as it is today, demonstrating a return to past carceral practices.

Providing critical historical context for today's news cycle, Forever Prisoners focuses on the sites of limbo where America's immigration population have been and continue to be held.

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