Manipulation in the U.S. Refugee Regime

On 27 February 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, “Immigration officials are authorized to detain certain aliens in the course of immigration proceedings while they determine whether those aliens may be lawfully present in the country.” In addition to being held indefinitely, immigrants and refugees will have no access to legal aid during this holding time.

U.S. RefugeesIn reflecting on the writings of Michel Agier and his book “On the Margins of the World: The Refugee Experience Today”, it is apparent that this legal decision from the nation’s highest court builds upon repressive practices and ideologies surrounding movement of peoples and their forced containment.

Just as the U.S. state and a variety of international non-governmental organizations have noted, brutal regimes like Eritrea and Syria utilize detainment as a means to enforce deprivation of temporal and spatial reasoning. By confining individuals to fixed spaces with limited access to other people and the outside world, prisoners are stripped of reasoning by key senses and social interactions.

In reviewing these cases deemed “brutal,” “inhumane,” and “torturous,” it is alarming to see some of these structural components being legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court in its recent ruling. As noted by Justice Alito, immigrants–including refugees and asylum seekers–may be held indefinitely in holding facilities across the U.S.

It is further alarming to see this ruling enforced upon all immigrants, especially forced migrant populations that are already fleeing brutal regimes that use these same deprave methods of temporal and spatial manipulation.

This change in legal precedent is of grave concern for the U.S. Refugee Regime and its legitimacy in the international arena. Even more concerning, these drastic policy changes are not isolated to the U.S. and its refugee systems.

European Union countries like Hungary and Slovenia are detaining refugees and closing borders, respectively. Each national-based case is rooted in a general Global North trend to dispel, detain, and decenter the colonial vestiges of imperial Europe and the U.S.

Indeed, now that the black and brown bodies of colonization, of imperial control, and of occupation have begun moving towards the mother colonizers and their respective stolen wealth and access, bastions of safety, of control, and of detention have begun to rise.

These physical cases–as noted in legal policies allowing for greater detention authority under U.S. and Austrian centers–must be paralleled to the same repressive regimes that engage in this depraved, cruel, and inhumane legal change.


Without this juxtaposition being recognized and called by name, those aware of these issues fail to epistemically disengage with racist, imperial logic that allows for the denouncement of these atrocities abroad while failing to act against–or even willfully recognize–these same systems proliferating in our own communities and states.



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Hera Brown

Hera Brown

Hera Brown is a current fourth year at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville with the Baker, College, and Haslam Scholars programs. Her degree program, Socio-Cultural Anthropology and Migration Studies, has centered on understanding the global refugee regime and how varying nations throughout Europe and the Middle East support and/or integrate forced migrants into their respective societies. Hera hopes to continue research and professional development via a PhD and hopes to one day serve as the first openly trans Assistant High Commissioner for Protection with the United Nation's High Commissioner for Refugees.

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