Michael Welch


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The Role of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the Prison-Industrial Complex

Author Michael Welch argues that the unmistakable feature of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) over the past two decades is that it has downplayed its mission of social service (i.e., assisting undocumented immigrants in their pursuit of naturalization), while emphasizing its law enforcement role. Flexing its police powers, the INS has benefited financially from its hard-line stance on immigration insofar as the agency has been rewarded with additional funding from Congress. This article furnishes evidence that the INS is not merely imitating the larger criminal justice machinery, but is operating under the same canopy of social control. In concert with other components of the criminal justice system, the INS responds to the market imperatives of the prison-industrial complex, an enterprise whereby lawbreakers and undocumented immigrants are commodified as raw materials for private profit. The discussion begins with recent trends in social control in which state managers have overhauled conventional mechanisms designed to deal with surplus populations. This new penology marks a significant departure from traditional jurisprudence and contributes to the commodification of prisoners and INS detainees. The role of the INS in the prison-industrial complex compounds problems inherent in coercive social control. Most notably, the INS administers policies that produce human rights abuses rather than cultural assimilation. Harsh conditions of confinement, coupled with protracted periods of detention, contribute directly to institutional violence.

immigration, United States — immigration and naturalization service; immigrants — transnational migration; prisons; corporations — United States — prisons

Citation: Social Justice Vol. 27, No. 3 (2000): 73-88