Detaining the Immigrant Other: Global and Transnational Issues

Reviewed by Sarah M. Hughes, Research Postgraduate, Department of Geography, Durham University, UK

Furman, Rich, Douglas Epps, and Greg Lamphear, eds. Detaining the Immigrant Other: Global and Transnational Issues. First Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Furman, Epps and Lamphear’s edited volume Detaining the Immigrant Other: Global and Transnational Issues provides important attention to practices of immigration detention within countries that are currently not often represented within literature in this field. The volume is comprised of 15 interventions from countries including: The Netherlands, UK, Greece, Sweden, France, Malta, USA, Canada, Mexico, Hong Kong, Turkey, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia and South Africa. The authors of these short essays draw upon a variety methodological approaches (including participant observation, interviewing and statistical analysis) to interrogate practices of immigration detention within these distinct spaces.

The conceptual, empirical and methodological diversity of these chapters, results in Detaining the Immigrant Other providing a rich tapestry of accounts, analyses and provocations on the place of immigration detention within a global and transnational context. To this end, the reader is introduced to a wide variety of aspects of immigration detention around the world, including: whether detained migrants are coerced into deportation from The Netherlands; the vulnerability of detained LGBTI migrants around the world; the securitisation of unauthorised migration in Malaysia; Human Rights and migration detention in Mexico; migrant detention within Greece and UK; the Europeanization of immigration detention in Turkey; ethnographic accounts from Lindela detention centre in South Africa and the traumatic experiences of parents and children who are detained in Canada (including from children who are separated from their parents).

Reading this multifaceted volume in the context of the recent growth of carceral geography literature, it is possible to identify many points of resonance. Given the focus upon global and transnational issues, it is unsurprising that the authors place their discussions of immigration detention in the context of broader economic and geopolitical systems. In their chapter, Mathews and Wai-Chi examine detention Hong Kong in relation to geopolitical relations with the Chinese state, and in Missbach focuses upon how Indonesian detention is intertwined with Australian offshore policies. Furthermore, many of the authors also discuss immigration detention in the context of wider systems of neoliberalism and privatisation. For example, Furman et al. explore the nexus of privatization within the North-West Detention Centre (USA), in the context of a broader neoliberal agenda within American prisons and detention facilities. Similarly, in Penovic and Dastyari look at the layers of privatisation within Australian detention centres, questioning what it might mean to be ‘accountable’ within these systems of border control. A number of the chapters follow wider trends within carceral geographies to focus upon how incarceration extends beyond the detention centre, into more nebulous and shifting systems of confinement. Indeed, Mainwaring discusses how confinement extends beyond the detention centre in Malta, and Khosravi draws upon personal reflections from his ethnographic work with Afghanis commenting that these individuals “do not imagine themselves in terms of where they are from, but where they are deported from” (p.181 emphasis as original).

Taken together these chapter provide a critique of the global practices and policies of detaining the immigrant ‘other’. Many of the authors provide vivid descriptions of the conditions in immigration detention around the world, frequently including the low pay and poor training for the staff who work there. Furthermore, there are calls from many of the authors to end detention, or to improve the conditions inside the centres. However, Mathews and Wai-Chi’s account provides the reader with an alternative intervention regarding the place of immigration detention in Hong Kong. The authors argue that conditions are such in detention centres that “[T]hough there is much to be ashamed of in Hong Kong’s treatment of asylum seekers, conditions in Hong Kong prison and detention centres seem to be something about which Hongkongers can feel proud” (p.115 emphasis added). Not negating the authors’ research, this controversial statement is one with which I recommend approaching with extreme caution, for whilst they may perhaps be considered comparably “decent places” (p.115), this is still a system of administrative confinement, enmeshed within wider – violent – practices of border control.

This perspective is an anomaly within the chapters that comprise this volume. Indeed, the editors of this volume state that they hope the reader has a “transcendent experience and feel compelled toward action as a means of honoring those who have lived the horrible injustice that is immigration detention” (p.12). The impact up of these critical interventions upon the reader however, is perhaps slightly muted by the format of this edited volume. Whilst the editors do outline the chapters in their introduction, I wonder whether more could have been done by to pull out the themes of these varied and powerful chapters, or if the volume could have been structured (e.g. around geographical region, argument or focus of intervention) which would have been perhaps clearer for the reader to engage with the edited collection as a whole.

Yet this does not significantly detract from what is a rich and compelling edited collection, for together the authors make a power statement around the role of immigration detention across the globe today. Detaining the Immigrant other. Global and Transnational Issues therefore provides both an excellent introduction to those interested in learning about immigration detention and, for those scholars already embedded within this literature, the volume provides a novel focus upon transnational issues, together with engaging with important empirical interventions from spaces often neglected within academic analysis.

[To recommend a book for review, or to register your interest in reviewing a book for this website, please contact]