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Punitive subjectivities and emotions in immigration detention

by Alethia Fernández de la Reguera

Submission summary

Authors (as registered SciPost users): Alethia Fernandez de la Reguera
Submission information
Preprint Link: scipost_202401_00016v1  (pdf)
Date submitted: 2024-01-15 22:37
Submitted by: Fernandez de la Reguera, Alethia
Submitted to: Migration Politics
Ontological classification
Academic field: Political Science
  • Migration Politics
Approach: Observational


In immigration detention centres emotions run high; tensions, conflicts, anxiety, and affection occur amid bureaucratic procedures, paperwork, files, lists of people, systematization of cases, buses that come and go with detainees, and people who will be deported. Although immigration detention belongs to the realm of administrative law, in practice, detention centres operate closer to a penal detention. Little is known about the operation of immigration detention centres in Mexico, including how punishment takes place in a daily practice. Even less is known about the people who work there, especially how they collaborate with a system that promotes punishment as a central element of immigration detention. In this article, I study how emotions such as fear and disgust can enhance a punitive subjectivity of Instituto Nacional de Migración [National Institute of Migration] (INM) agents, while empathy can challenge it. I analyse working conditions and daily interactions in detention centres, immigration control facilities and their surroundings, all of them environments of discretion and social distancing between INM officers and migrants. I argue that punishment becomes central as an institutionalised practice in these places by channelling emotions of INM agents derived from anxieties and frustrations and promoting a sense of institutional belonging and the illusion of order and control. However, I also analyse empathy, which even if it´s fragile, shows the existence of other subjectivities within the punitive system of immigration detention. In this sense, the questions I intend to answer in this paper are: Under what structural and institutional conditions do emotions become power in immigration detention settings? What impact do emotions have on the construction of a punitive subjectivity? How do emotions expressed by INM agents (such as fear, disgust and compassion) enhance or challenge punishment of migrants?

Current status:
In refereeing

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