Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2022


Immigration advocates have long objected to both the constitutionality and conditions of immigration detention. However, legal challenges to the practice have been largely unsuccessful due to immigration law’s “exceptionality.” Placing recent litigation carried out against immigration detention during the COVID-19 pandemic within the context of the judiciary’s approach to immigration, this Article argues that litigation is an extremely limited strategic avenue to curtail the use of immigration detention. I then argue that anti-immigration detention advocates should attempt to incorporate their agenda into criminal legal reform and decarceration efforts. This is important for both movements. Normatively, immigration detention raises comparable issues: Namely, that jailing people is, on the one hand, an extreme and cost-ineffective form of social control, and on the other, a tool to marginalize or “otherize” entire communities. Furthermore, there is evidence that ongoing efforts to decarcerate states and localities may be foiled by immigration detention. To the extent, therefore, that decarceration reforms are based on commitments to freedom or condemnation of the extensive use of carceral institutions, they are incomplete and even dangerous without including measures to address immigration detention. Immigration advocates, on the other hand, are more likely to succeed by placing the anti-immigration detention agenda within the scope of larger criminal legal reform than by pursuing immigration detention reform or through litigation.