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Fighting Border Control in Three Sites of Confinement: Contestation and Visibility in Prison, Immigration Detention and Under Digital Confinement in New York

Lutter contre le contrôle à la frontière dans trois sites de confinement : contestations et visibilité en prison, rétention administrative et sous confinement numérique à New York
Carolina S. Boe


Les frontières apparaissent à l’intérieur des États-Nations dans de nombreux espaces tels les prisons, les centres de rétention administrative et à travers des formes de confinement numériques. À partir de recherches ethnographiques et d’entretiens biographiques avec des personnes étrangères en instance d’expulsion du territoire états-unien, cette contribution analyse les possibilités de contestation et de subversion dans trois situations de confinement : les prisons, les centres de rétention administrative et le placement sous bracelet électronique à des fins de contrôle migratoire. L’analyse se distingue d’autres travaux sur les liens entre les formes de résistance dans les prisons et les quartiers pénalisés, d’une part, et ceux portant sur les stratégies d’invisibilité de migrants en situation irrégulière, d’autre part, par l’attention portée aux stratégies de visibilité qui permettent de contester les expulsions. L’attention est portée sur les façons dont les résistances à la frontière et les conditions de détention au sein des institutions de confinement peuvent se transformer en résistances publiques à travers des alliances avec des citoyens et des arènes publiques en dehors des prisons et des centres de rétention. Ces mobilisations sont renforcées et parfois affaiblies à travers des stratégies de visibilité, tout particulièrement suite aux reconfigurations du militantisme par les médias sociaux et le développement de formes de confinement numériques et de surveillance des contestations sociales.

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Acknowledgements: Heartfelt gratitude to Ravi, Jean and their families for their trust and time and to the many others who have contributed to this article and whom I cannot mention by name. Thank you also to the editors of Champ Péna/Penal Fieldl and two anonymous reviewers for their patience, generosity and insights, to the Independent Research Fund Denmark for its generous funding of the Border Without Walls project, to Martijn van Beek, KMB, Alina Das, Amy Gottlieb, Jim Scott, Elissa Steglich and Christian Suhr, and colleagues and friends from my host institutions IMC at Aarhus University, CESDIP-CNRS at Université de Paris, and SADR at the City University of New York for stimulating discussions, and especially David C. Brotherton, Eric Dagiral, Olivier Martin and Andreas Roepstorff. The article is dedicated to the memory of D. M. who passed away in August 2020 in Texas after fighting bravely against Covid-19, with much love to his family.

1. Introduction

1Borders are not only located at the geographical confines of the nation-state, but come to existence in multiple spaces through internal enforcement in prisons, detention centers and through electronic monitoring. This article specifically analyzes the ways in which modes of resistance developed in the entanglements between criminal justice and immigration enforcement are shaped, enforced, but sometimes also weakened through strategies of visibility, especially with the reconfigurations of activism through social media and the developments of forms of digital confinement and surveillance.

2The analysis takes its outset in the fact that just as populations “traverse sites of confinement” (Jefferson, 2010, 387), so do techniques of contestation travel from one institution or situation of confinement to another. Several scholars have shown the interconnections between sites of confinement and how the experiences of incarceration of citizens from marginalized neighborhoods are characterized by continuities with their life before prison. Research from the early 1960s already showed how prison sub-culture and modes of contestation were “imported” from the streets (Irwin, Cressey, 1962). With the exponential rise of incarceration of men and women from socially marginalized and economically disenfranchised neighborhoods, whole populations have become interchangeable in a “closed circuit” (Cunha, 2008) of persons who enter and exit prisons on a regular basis, connecting prisons to penalized neighborhoods.

3An attention to contestation and the specific trajectories of foreign-nationals between institutions of confinement and their communities is less common. Among notable exceptions, Johanna Siméant has shown how previously incarcerated undocumented migrants introduced certain modes of contestations they had learnt in prison, including hunger strikes, to the sans-papiers movement for the legalization of undocumented migrants in France (Siméant, 1998). Elsewhere, I have suggested that foreign-national prisoners mobilize different forms of resources when they are incarcerated and ordered deported, depending on their past experiences of documented or undocumented status (Boe, 2016, 2020b). Similarly, knowledge acquired during incarceration is central to the ways in which delegalized foreign-nationals, who were ordered deported, adapt to being undocumented migrants in the country where they previously lived as permanent residents (Boe, 2018). The focus in this article is different from previous work on the links between resistance in prison and in penalized neighborhoods on the one hand, and the strategies of invisibility of undocumented migrants on the other (Coutin, 2000 ; De Genova, 2002 ; Boe, 2009, 2016; Le Courant, 2010), with its attention to modes of visibility as strategies to subvert internal border control and contest deportation in different situations of confinement and through public participation in social movements. The analysis focuses on the ways in which smaller forms of contestation, or “hidden transcripts” (Scott, 1990) developed by prisoners and detainees within institutions of confinement can be turned into larger public transcripts of protest, through alliances with citizens and engagements in public arenas that lay outside of prisons and detention centers.

  • 1 ICE manages, among other tasks, deportation, the detention of non-citizens in immigrant detention c (...)

4The article draws on non-consecutive fieldwork carried out since 2000 in the New York Metropolitan area, on experiences as a translator in immigration detention, and on participant observation during public meetings, rallies, and check-ins at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)1 as well as formal interviews with twenty lawyers and community activists. The core of this research consists of repeated, formal biographical interviews with forty foreign-national men and women at different moments of their trajectories through the criminal justice system and immigration enforcement. They are among the millions of foreign-nationals who have been ordered deported from the USA during the past four decades (Kanstroom, 2007; De Genova, Peutz 2010; Brotherton, Kretsedemas, 2018). Though the numbers of deportees have grown exponentially in the USA as in other countries, a minority succeeds in challenging their deportation and remain “undeported” for years and sometimes even decades, and they become part of a “floating population” (Foucault, 1979) of exiles who are brought into forced circulations between different sites of confinement (Boe, 2009, 2016, 2018). This phenomenon is, in many ways, similar to the situation in France, where I have carried out similar research and also worked as a paralegal immigration lawyer defending so-called doubles peines, that is, foreign-nationals with a criminal sentence and a deportation order. Such parallel research within two different legal systems makes it possible to compare and reflect upon some of the similarities and differences that exist between laws and their application, between the configurations and evolutions of the immigrant rights movements in two localities, and the positions and inclusions of deportees within them.

5With its focus on strategies of visibility and public participation in social movements against detention and deportation, the article draws on this larger corpus of research, but specifically follows the trajectories of two men, Ravi Ragbir and Jean Montrevil, who are highly visible members of the immigrant and activist community, notably through their involvement in non-profit organizations Families for Freedom and in New York’s New Sanctuary Coalition (NSC). Before I initially met and interviewed them for the first time in 2011, I knew of them, as both men inspired hope to others, and they had helped some of my research participants with their legal cases. While Ravi and Jean have been encouraged, at different moments to “go underground” or “get off the radar”, in other words, to withdraw from public life and try to stay in the United States as undocumented migrants, both chose to comply with the requirements of ICE, while being determined to publicly contest their own deportations and that of others. They contributed to build and consolidate a series of collective mobilizations, which involve migrant and citizen activists whose actions have been facilitated by social media. The article follows their trajectories through different forms of confinement: prison, immigration detention and electronic monitoring and surveillance. I focus on how these situations differ in their spatial and temporal dimensions, and how they create different possibilities for more visible or more hidden forms of contestations that center on complying with the system in place, while attempting to subvert it. The aim is thus to discuss some of the advantages and difficulties related to making oneself visible as activists, but even more so, as community organizers, while one’s deportation order is still pending.

6Jean was deported in January 2018 after 32 years in the United States, and Ravi is still facing deportation to this day, having spent 29 years in the country (summer 2020).

2. Caught in the entanglements of criminal justice and immigration enforcement

7During the 1980s and 1990s, foreign-nationals were the targets of a series of laws that further deepened the legal divide between foreign-nationals and citizens, exposing them to mandatory deportation and detention (Fernandes, 2007, 209; Kanstroom, 2007, 227-228). Research participants who were ordered deported after a criminal sentence in the 1990s and early 2000s found themselves caught up in conflicting expectations and demands that made it difficult to understand how to challenge their deportation, adjust their legal status, or contest their conditions of detention.

2.1. Opacities. Contesting the border within the criminal justice system

8Jean arrived in the USA from his native Haiti in 1986, aged 17. After his mother’s death, Jean had spent much of his childhood and early youth waiting to finally reunite with his father, who lived in New York. The transition from Haiti to the US was, however, difficult, and Jean quickly “got involved with the wrong crowd”, as he explained in 2011, when he told me about his arrest, sentence on a drug charge, and incarceration in 1989, aged 21. As other research participants, Jean had relied on fellow prisoners to learn the ropes of prison life (see also Boe, 2016, 2020b):

You know, I was young. I’m a good learner so I was learning, from other guys talking. […] Even though I was in a dangerous place, in a dangerous situation. I made the best of it. I came out very good. […] And that’s when immigration came in.

9Jean was among the tens of thousands of legal residents who, in the 1990s and early 2000s, discovered that they could be ordered deported:

I thought it was a joke. I mean I had my green card. […] This was in 1992. In 1992, immigration wasn’t as big as it is today, right? Like deportation and all of that stuff. I was witnessing what was to come, the very beginning when that thing started.

10The legislation that concerned Jean was still in the making during the early 1990s, and not only foreign-nationals, but also prison personnel remained largely ignorant of the changes in immigration law and their consequences. In retrospect, after having read up on immigration law, Jean understood how his rights and those of his fellow foreign-national inmates had been disregarded in an expedited system, where information about the law and its application was scarce and opaque, and where legal council was available only through private lawyers:

You know, now we have big non-profit organizations all over the country that can help immigrants. But in the very beginning, there were crooked immigration lawyers, you know, they would represent people who had no chance, trying to make money from them. They did ask me for $1600. And that lawyer messed up my case.

11The day of his hearing, Jean’s lawyer didn’t show up for immigration court, and he represented himself, without fully understanding the legal implications of certain questions asked by the immigration judge. Had Jean provided additional information and established certain elements of his family’s immigration status to the judge that day, he might not have been ordered deported. Rather, as Jean stood before the immigration court, he drew on advice given to him by prison personnel, who had told him to produce documentation of his good behavior, education and hard work in prison, without knowing that his path towards rehabilitation would prove irrelevant to an immigration court:

Three months later, the judge sent me a letter in the mail and I was ordered deported. When I got the letter I was shocked… […] I had a good case, I had my brothers and sisters and all kinds of letters and my son was waiting for me.

12A few days before his release from prison, in 2000, Jean prepared to get deported to Haiti. He said goodbye to his family in the visiting area of the prison, and the night before his release, he held a small party with his fellow inmates, and gave them the belongings he had accumulated during his incarceration.

The night before, the guys, you know, have a little get together. You know, when you’re leaving, you’re getting together with the people you know inside, you know, good luck, eating food… So, I waited for immigration to come pick me up.

13The next day, to Jean’s surprise, no immigration agents came to fetch him but an escort drove him to a courthouse in New York to present him before a judge, who released him, asking him to come back 72 hours later. Jean thought they would be his last in the US. He spent them with his family and met with a lawyer who advised him not to go back to the courthouse:

They said: “Wow, man, based on what you’re telling me right now you are lucky you are here. Your best chance is to go underground. Cause immigration is gonna get you and you’re going to be deported.” And I said: “I can’t go underground. Because I will be illegal. I will be living in fear, you know.”

14In contrast to many other research participants, who did go underground (Boe, 2016, 2018), Jean chose to continue to comply with the law, so he went to the courthouse, where he expected to self-surrender to ICE:

I went there because I had promised myself: “Don’t ever jeopardize your freedom again. So the judge told you to come back, come back.” […] I looked to see for immigration, for ICE, no nothing.

15Jean was in complete disbelief at what was happening. Instead of being detained and deported, Jean’s 72 hours of borrowed time ended with a court decision of five years of supervised release. Submitted as Jean was to the control of criminal justice caseworkers in his home, at his workplace and in the offices of federal buildings, Jean assumed that he would no longer be deported.

At some point now I kinda basically forget about ICE. Living my life, a normal life. You know, working, taking care of the business… I was… you know, LIVING! I forget about ICE.

16His temporal experience shifted, as the fear of deportation, or the deportability (De Genova, 2002) that he had lived with in prison was transformed into certainty as to the future that he was building for himself and his family in the US. Jean took his “second chance” seriously and started building up a business, working hard and getting commercial success. Check-ins with the criminal justice system became a routine experience, and he was looking forward to the end of his supervised release:

After five years, they call me in to come sign my papers… I’m so happy, saying: “Oh God, I’m going to be free” [… but] right behind the door: “Get down! Get down! ICE! ICE! ICE!” Took me in… By then I had another son, you know. And I was like: “You didn’t have to do that. Why didn’t you just call me, because I wasn’t going nowhere, anywhere. I would’ve come in, report for deportation. I would have gotten my business together.” They wouldn’t even let me get a phone-call to let my wife know that I was not going to be able to pick my son up. I was fingerprinted and boom! Sit down tight and sent all over to New Jersey. Yeah… I was mad. I was MAD!

17While Jean had accepted the logic of incarceration and the rules of probation – you commit a mistake, you make amends, you turn your life around – and while he had been ready to self-surrender for deportation five years earlier, he now found his arrest by ICE deeply unfair. Being detained disrupted the life he had built for himself and his family. After respecting all the conditions of his supervised release, his wife and children suddenly lost a provider. Jean now had too much to lose, and he decided to fight back and to use all the legal avenues possible to challenge his deportation.

18Similarly to Jean, Ravi’s experience in the entanglements between criminal justice and immigration enforcement was characterized by a sense of deep injustices being committed against him and others, as he told me when I first interviewed him in 2011. Ravi came to the US in 1990 and was granted a green card and residency. He has worked actively to prove his innocence since he was initially convicted of fraud in 2000, while, similarly to Jean, abiding by the requirements lain upon him by the criminal justice and immigration enforcement systems. When Ravi appealed his sentence, he was placed under house arrest for three years with electronic monitoring while waiting for his trial, being only allowed out of his house to run errands or fetch his then underage daughter from school. He expected that his innocence would be proven, but he lost his appeal and received a letter saying that he should report to prison:

If I ran away, then obviously I would be a fugitive. So I went […] I self-surrendered. […] I always expected to win my case sometime or the other. I expected to find a way to do that.

19Telling me about his first prison experience, Ravi, as all my other research participants, including Jean, stressed how important acts of solidarity are among prisoners. He met a fellow Trinidadian who shared food with him, and other prisoners helped him understand the workings of the prison institution. Ravi became a cadre, which implies working for the prison and gives greater mobility within the building, and in turn makes it possible to engage in exchanges of information and the other acts of reciprocity that are central to prison sociability:

You’ll pass books and you’ll help people as much as you can. But yeah, you’ll meet someone and they’ll say, “If you’re in this unit, tell my friend to stay strong,” and those are the kind of messages that you’ll give people, to keep people… hopeful.

20Having been ill advised by his criminal defense attorney who had lost him his case, Ravi decided to understand the law and how he could defend himself, relying on the advice he could get from other inmates and from the library:

It was only when I was inside that I started to do my own research. Before, I had been expecting the lawyer to save me. My advantage was to be educated and having been to the university. Now I was going to the library, reading, getting information and talking to people, first in prison, and later in immigration.

21The day before Ravi’s prison sentence was over in 2006, he learnt that he would be fetched by immigration agents and detained by ICE. Ravi appeared before an immigration judge who ordered him deported without a hearing on his case and no consideration of his or his family’s situation.

22The world of immigration detention had been completely unknown to both Ravi and Jean before they were transferred there, and as many other research participants who had previously been incarcerated, they were shocked to discover that the conditions of confinement were worse in detention centers than in the prisons they had known. The next section will analyze more closely the ways in which incarceration and immigration detention differ, and how previous experience of penal institutions can inspire contestations of detention and deportation.

2.2. Economies of confinement and the circulations of objects and knowledge

23Due to changes in the law and in immigration enforcement practices, immigration detention was reintroduced in the US in the 1980s, after having been very rare after the closing of Ellis Island in 1951, and grew exponentially in the following decades. In 1994, 6,000 immigrants were detained on any given day, a number that increased to an estimated 34,000 immigration detainees in 2014 and 52,000 in 20192. Immigration detention is a profitable business, and corrections corporations, which benefitted from the “prison-industrial complex”, entered the immigration detention market and became key actors in the development of the “immigration industrial complex” (Fernandes, 2007; Conlon, Hiemstra, 2014; Gomez Cervantes et al., 2017). Journalists and scholars have uncovered links between the Department of Homeland Security, elected politicians and the lobbies of the for-profit corrections industry that builds, caters for, and manages both correctional facilities and immigration detention centers (Gilman, Romero, 2018; Collingwood et al., 2018). Former correctional facilities were often converted into immigration detention centers, while the spatial outlines of facilities that were built for immigrants mostly reproduced a generic penal architecture (Lopez, 2019). Where the criminal justice system offers some activities in view of a prisoner’s rehabilitation, few leisure and educational activities are available in detention, and the disciplinary regime for detainees is, more often than not, stricter than for prisoners, including when detainees and prisoners are held in the same facilities. All my research participants, who had known both institutions, reported additional forms of constraints from what they had experienced as prisoners, such as being woken up in the middle of the night, having to stand next to their bed for count or frequent transfers between facilities (see also Conlon, Hiemstra, 2014; Mountz, 2015).

24The privatization of institutions of confinement and public-private partnerships were justified by cost-savings, though these benefitted the corrections industry itself and its investors, more than they did taxpayers. Savings often led to human rights violations, when they were made on food, hygiene, cleaning, air-conditioning, heating, blankets, prison uniforms, and on the training of guards and other personnel. The hardships of detention, especially in for-profit facilities, include added expenses for food, due to insufficient meals, and exorbitant expenses for telecommunications with spouses, families, friends and lawyers. As Conlon and Hiemstra (2014) rightly stress, there has been a lack of attention in the scholarly literature on immigration detention to forms of “forced consumerism” and to the “everyday micro-economics of detention”, such as the “bartering economies” that “develop among detainees, in which skills, material items, and money are exchanged” (Colon, Hiemstra, 2014, 343), which the authors wish to draw attention to in future research. In 2011, Jean told me how goods, rather than money, are a common currency within such economies of confinement:

Each prison has its own currency. In the State it’s cigarettes. And in the Feds it’s cigarettes and cans of fish, not sardines but mackerel. Yeah. Because that’s the most popular one, that’s what people use to cook everything, so that’s become the currency of choice.

25As other former prisoners turned immigrant detainee, Jean had experienced how material shortcomings in penal institutions are often solved by prisoners themselves rather than by guards, and how exchanges of objects and knowledge is an important aspect of sociabilities in institutions of confinement, as was mentioned in Ravi’s experience of prison. Objects such as books or family photographs can be important public markers of distinction, and keeping objects secret can feel empowering, as reminders of a persons’ life, identity and status before their incarceration (Ricordeau, 2014), just as the destruction of objects can be central to overt forms of resistance such as riots (Tassin, 2014). The possession and circulation of objects can also be attributed meaning as symbols of resistance and can gain great importance for confined persons, giving them a sense of having succeeded in carving out a space of contestation, however small, within the rigid rules of an institution of confinement. Such “infrapolitical” forms of resistance produce “hidden transcripts”, or critiques of power, that contrast with the “public transcripts” of power relations (Scott, 1990). Among smaller, everyday forms of resistance, research participants who had experienced detention have mentioned secretly getting an extra blanket, or keeping an apple or a piece of bread in detention centers where it is forbidden to store food, even though they run the risk that guards may retaliate if the illicit object is found. Guards, of course, often know about the more or less licit objects that are being traded, such as food or contraband, but when prisoners engage in exchanges of objects and knowledge, they are often solving problems on their own, which understaffed personnel will not need to attend to. Also, guards have the option to take away objects or privileges, which were gained informally, leaving a prisoner with no formal possibility to litigate (Benguigui et al., 1994). With his previous decade-long experience of incarceration, Jean had learnt some strategies, which he shared with fellow immigrant detainees:

I’d been in the system already. Everybody was like on me, oh my God! So I did help a lot of guys and I set up a telephone system for them to call internationally. They put one guy in our section because of overcrowding. He’s American and he’s local. I was helping out and always giving him food and he’s my friend now. So I had him – his wife – set up a phone in his house where they forward that number straight to my house in New York […] and we’d get a phone-card to call Africa, you know, for the guys. I thought, I have to do something.

26After his sudden detention after five years on probation, Jean was determined to fight against his deportation. Like Ravi, he started gathering legal information to understand his legal situation with the support of his wife, who became active on the outside of detention in community organization Families For Freedom. Jean soon got involved in the defense of other detainees, and he worked actively to let them benefit from his insights and resources:

I’m inside, getting more educated, learning about this stuff. And there is also a new law that passed that they can’t hold you for more than six months if they can’t deport you. But many guys didn’t know, and I started helping them out filing habeas corpus.

27Jean met men who had been detained for months and years and had little knowledge of their own rights in an opaque legal system where it was difficult to obtain clear legal advise, which was something that Jean himself had experienced during his initial encounter with border control, while he was still incarcerated:

Guys in there they pick up from the airport, you know. They have genuine asylum cases. But they don’t have no representation and they are in there for two years. Can’t get out. A Vietnamese guy, one guy, he got a case to get out […] All he has to do is file papers in court, go to the district court, file the habeas corpus. I did that for him. I did that for an African, I did that for an Indian guy, Singh, a few other people. I mean, you know. We really came together in there, you know. It was all of us immigrants, and an American when they’re overcrowded.

28In contrast to prison, where he had experienced individualized case management, Jean discovered that many detainees faced specific obstacles due to limited linguistic skills or to disability, which added to their isolation and lack of access to rights:

It was hard on them, on some of them that don’t speak English. You know, I knew a Haitian who didn’t speak no English. We spoke creole. And he was in a wheelchair. I had to push him around all the time. People told me to ask the warden to assign me to take care of him, but I just do it anyway. He gave me a lot of good stories.

29Sharing stories are as important in institutions of confinement as the circulation of legal information, of objects or of the messages of encouragement that were also mentioned in Ravi’s account of being a cadre in prison. In “social spaces insulated from control and surveillance from above” (Scott, 1990, 118), detainees share stories of lawyers rumored to be dishonest, judges reputed lenient, successful escapes from institutions of confinement and possible legal strategies to fight deportation and conditions of detention. As Scott argues, the analysis of “hidden transcripts” should not be reduced to the back-stage talk of individual anger and self-assertion that allows the subaltern to vent their frustrations. Though they are important vectors of dignity and empowerment through shared knowledge, solidarity and service to others, their importance goes beyond that, as they create or reinforce a critique of power. As stories articulate the unfairness of the criminal justice system and of immigration enforcement, of a common unjust fate due to larger structural issues of injustice along racialized, gendered and class lines, they create hope and encouragement, which can inspire public forms of resistance such as evasions or uprisings (Boe, 2020b) and also legal strategies. Attention to “hidden transcripts” shows how covert practices, even the smallest forms of subversions, which the powerful may suspect, can lead to overt forms of resistance, as they are “constantly pressing against the limit of what is permitted onstage, much as a body of water might press against a dam” (Scott, 1990, 196). Engaging in “hidden transcripts” is an important aspect of sociabilities in institutions of confinement and can take varied shapes, from the most tactical, individual and seemingly insignificant, to the most strategic and collective, which may lead to institutional change, as will be discussed in the following sections.

2.3. Making detention conditions visible

30For long, the world of immigration detention stayed largely invisible to the general public (Mountz, 2015) beyond detainees and their families, but in the early 2000s, the conditions of detention slowly started to be made public by journalists and human rights organizations. When revelations concerning the ill treatment of immigrant detainees and human rights violations became more and more frequent, they were brought to the fore, in great part, thanks to journalists from traditional news media (Bernstein, 2016). They got much information from non-profit organizations and networks that increasingly allocated resources to provide pro-bono legal advice, investigate ill-treatment and human rights violations and make them public, acquiring knowledge from detainees themselves and their families.

31Having been released from MDC in Brooklyn, which had notoriously bad prison conditions, Ravi explains his initial disbelief as he witnessed the conditions of detention of immigration detainees, compared to prison:

In MDC, even though you were convicted or charged, or sentenced, you had rights. And an officer can be really nasty and mean, but you can file a complaint against him, and they were careful about that. Obviously you would have nasty officers, but it wouldn’t be the whole jail, there would be one or two. […] As an immigrant, the officers could be real jerks, you know. They would call you names and they would shout at you, they would disrespect you. It was the other way around. The decent respectful, were few.

32As many other research participants, both men had experienced unfair trials in the criminal justice system, while at the same time, sometimes, witnessing successful litigation by prisoners. What Ravi, Jean and other research participants experienced in detention, however, was that immigration detention lacked the forms of judicial oversight or the possibilities (even if they are limited) of litigation that are present in the criminal justice system. The fact that there was little or no guarantee of the respect of the rights of detainees added to their determination to challenge their own deportation, which soon turned to a commitment to help others in similar situations. As others before him, Ravi used a legalistic discourse against the institution itself. As He witnessed several acts of cruelty and collective harassment on detainees and started to write letters to all the human rights organizations he could think of, eventually establishing a connection to the ACLU. Besides becoming a jailhouse lawyer, his observations within the detention system became part of a larger publication that denounced the conditions of detention, and, once released, he continued to speak against immigration detention, using the visibility that the Internet can provide beyond activist circles:

I remember one time, when you do a Google you will hear me speak about it. We were in steel buildings. So it was air-conditioned. Except this officer was so nasty he decided to play games with us, so he would turn the air-conditioner off. And he did it so often that the air-conditioner broke down. And no air was coming into the building. It took them a week to fix. They… they only brought two fans, to cool down 120 people. And it was 100°F outside, can you imagine how hot it was with no ventilation? […] One time they took away the washers and dryers… So we would have to wash our clothes in the sink. And how do we dry it, right? So we would hang it on the door. They wanted us to put it back on and dry it like that. It was all crazy things…

33In his study of political prisoners in West Germany in the 1970s, Linhardt (2004) has shown how a person who is confined, can contest the legitimacy of the institution itself through denunciations of physical abuse and by engaging the public arena through a network of sympathizers, outside of the institution. Linhardt, however, also points out how there are limits to such contestations when they only amount to smaller reforms and that they rarely succeed in subverting the system in place. As such confrontations successfully mobilize more powerful spectators on the outside of the institution, the litigant can, to a certain extent, be protected against retaliation, through mediations by more privileged groups. Such experiences on the inside of institutions of confinement encouraged several research participants to continue strategies of visibility in the public arena, once released, which will be discussed later in this article. Also, upon their release, Ravi, Jean and others went beyond the use of litigation and calls for reform of the system to question the very legitimacy of detention, deportation and immigration laws.

34For both men, helping other detainees was an empowering experience and upon their release from immigration detention centers, both became highly visible members of the immigrant rights movement, though they sometimes felt discouraged by new obstacles due to forms of digital enclosures. In the Fall 2019, reflecting back on his experiences, Ravi explained:

You are no longer only a victim when we talk about ourselves and others. It shifts our paradigm and our mental state and we become more powerful.

35The possibilities of contestation are often reconfigured due to the specific temporal experience of indefinite detention combined with the possible prospect of deportation. In detention, there is no precise knowledge of the date of one’s release, nor whether the release will amount to legalization or deportation, and in many cases, detention can last longer than an initial prison sentence. This temporal experience is characterized by waiting and uncertainty, as has been shown in research on British detention centers (Griffiths, 2014; Hasselberg, 2016). In prison, all research participants had known what their exact release date would be, and most complied with regulations because they worried about their probation and about getting the earliest release date possible. Detainees who had ongoing immigration cases sometimes thought that upsetting a guard could have a negative impact on their immigration case and could be so afraid of getting deported, that detention conditions were seen as a lesser evil that they wouldn’t contest for fear of loosing their deportation case (Boe, 2020b). Those who had lost hope of winning their case and thought they could be deported anytime, expressed that they felt that they “had nothing to lose”, or that they had their “backs against the wall”, which inspired them to fight their deportation by all means possible (Boe, 2020b). Having “nothing to lose” in detention can be extremely empowering, and can stand in stark contrast to the experiences of alternatives to detention, in the shape of electronic monitoring, as will be discussed in the next section.

3. Digital confinement and digital enclosures

36Over the past decades, the penal field has expanded into communities through the use of electronic monitoring and its use for probation and supervised release from the criminal justice system. Since 2004, the use of electronic monitoring for border control has increased through alternatives to detention, (ATD), notably the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP). The programs are subcontracted to private companies which were central to the development of private prisons and private detention centers and which now profit from contracts with ICE to monitor foreign-nationals who are released from detention centers. As detention figures continue to increase in the US, so do the numbers of foreign-nationals who are digitally confined, and given that the same contractors manage detention centers and electronic monitoring, they make significant profit whether foreign-nationals are detained behind bars or digitally in their homes and communities (Koulish, 2012; Gomez Cervantes et al., 2017; Gilman, Romero 2018).

3.1. Digital detention – electronic monitoring for border control

37Ravi’s activism from within detention was, in his and others’ interpretation, the main reason why he was released from the detention center in Alabama. His release, however, was under the ISAP program, and he was immediately confined with an electronic monitoring device strapped on his ankle:

They actually didn’t release me from immigration, I was just being released from detention. I was still under supervision from ICE. They put all these restrictions on you because they, they… are trying to break you down. They put you in detention for so long because they hope you get fed up and will wanna leave and you will wanna get out of there.

38Ravi’s relief when leaving the detention center quickly turned to frustration due to the continued temporal experience of uncertainty (Hasselberg, 2016) and inability to plan for the future:

Initially, I was extremely happy to be out, because - then you are free! You think it’s much better, but... But the conditions they place you under. It was reporting three times a week, the curfew, and then you have to live under this uncertainty that any day you can be deported… it’s really harsh.

39Before his initial criminal justice court case, Ravi had experienced house arrest with a criminal justice ankle monitor. His mobility had been restricted to his home, to taking his then underage daughter to school and run errands. Under the ISAP ankle monitor, he was allowed to move within the county he resided in. However, just after he had married his second wife, Ravi experienced a particularly brutal reminder of a deportation process that could start anytime, and of the consequences this generated for his loved-ones:

And you know my wife, so we had just got married, we were looking for a place to eat. So we were just driving around, looking. And all of a sudden we heard a sound and the GPS started to say “You are exiting your master zone! You are exiting your master zone!” And all of a sudden I realized, Oh! My foot started talking to me! We realized that we had changed counties. And right away we U-turned and we tried to get back as quickly as possible and it said; “You are entering your master zone! You are entering your master zone!” So for three days, I lived under the guillotine that they will violate me and they will take me back in.

40The experience of confinement of persons under electronic monitoring for border control purposes stems from a combination of the lack of control over their own spatial mobility, which is similar to that of those monitored in the criminal justice system (Allaria, 2014), but with a distinct temporal experience: the awareness that their lives can be dramatically altered from one day to the other, and that besides being arrested and transferred to a detention center, they can also be deported, in both cases being separated from their families again. Ravi, as several other research participants, stressed that in that sense, he found it less difficult to contest deportation and conditions of confinement within detention centers than when he was placed under electronic monitoring for border control:

In detention, you’re fighting the system. And you’re fighting with whatever resources you have. But when you’re out, you don’t have any resources anymore. You have to live. How are you gonna live. How are you gonna eat. Be housed. You can’t plan for two weeks, everything you have to do, it’s today, it’s tomorrow, but everything beyond that, or in my case every check-in, I expect to be taken away. It’s a fear, every day that you have to face.

41Jean was also initially relieved to be released from the immigration detention center after having filed a habeas corpus, as he had done for other detainees. Several research participants, who had assisted fellow prisoners, detainees and deportees, stressed the sense of empowerment it gave them to feel that they were actively contesting unfair detention conditions. Jean explained how his struggle for detainees did not end at his release from detention:

I was very upset, that’s why I got involved in immigration organizations when I came home. Straight to Families for Freedom. Saying “Guys, we gotta do something for what I’ve seen. People who’s in jail. That don’t have resources.”

42However, the uncertainty, which he had experienced as to when a deportation could take place, never completely left him, but rather intensified after his release:

They put pressure on me, they put me on this intensive program called ISAP. I was checking in three times a week, I couldn’t work. And I had a curfew from 7 in the morning to 7 in the evening, I had to be home. Financially, immigration destroyed me. That’s another story I can’t even tell people, because it’s unbelievable, the amount of money that fight cost.

43The financial difficulties that accompany electronic monitoring for border control purposes stems from the unwillingness of employers to hire employees with a precarious legal status that could get them detained or deported anytime, and from the stigma surrounding the device itself. The pre-recorded voice which Ravi and his wife heard when they accidentally crossed county lines also emits a high “Battery low! Battery low!” when the device is about to run out of electricity, which can happen several times a day, and the bulky device blinks and is difficult to hide, often chafing and creating sores or infections on the holder’s ankle. Towards the end of our 2011 interview, Jean lifted up the hem of his pants and showed me his ankle. Though the monitor had been taken off a year earlier, it had left visible, dark scars on his skin:

You see what the ankle bracelet did to my leg? I stayed on that program until that ankle bracelet was making holes in my leg.

44Though I have since seen many ankle monitors, during recent research in New York and Texas on their use for border control purposes, the stigma, in the original sense of the word, that had been left on Jean’s ankle still strikes me as particularly brutal. Such physical trauma are only visual indications of the emotional repercussions of these forms of digital confinement for border control purposes and the reconfigurations of deportability that they imply. I have since met research participants who, even months and years after having had an ankle monitor taken off, continued to limp or experience phantom buzzing in their legs. Meeting Ravi and Jean spurred my interest for the introduction of this new kind of digital confinement for border control purposes outside of detention centers, which has since expanded from being used on previously convicted deportees to asylum seekers, including women with children.

45Having the physical means to cross the boundaries set by the GPS, means having to learn to restrict oneself in ways that are different from the experiences of physical, not virtual, walls and fences. Being monitored, one becomes one’s own jailer, having to always be careful not to put oneself in a situation where one might disrespect a curfew or run low on battery, for instance always avoiding the risk of getting stuck in traffic. Family members often take part, involuntarily, in the surveillance of the monitored, as they remind them of curfews or the charging of batteries, as is also stressed by researchers having studied the experiences of electronic monitoring in the criminal justice system (Allaria, 2014). In the words of Gomez Cervantes et al. (2017, 283), the monitored are “bringing home the coercive system of disciplinary power found in detention centers”. As they get the chance to see their family every day, to see friends, to be outside of the confines of a closed institution, they also face an added fear of loss. The inability to plan for the future seems, in some ways, even harsher as one is outside, sharing an everyday life with friends and family, than in detention, where everyone in one’s near surroundings share the same uncertainty. Research participants, who have experienced both detention and electronic monitoring, explain how the latter, in spite of financial difficulties and spatial restrictions, gives a “taste of freedom”, which, they say, makes them comply more than they would in detention.

46While Jean and Ravi shared generously with me their experiences of the prisons and detention, both men expressed strong feelings about electronic monitoring that stayed with them for years after the device itself had been taken off their ankles. In the fall 2019, looking back on his own experiences of electronic monitoring in the light of its increased use for border control for new social categories, including female asylum seekers, Ravi told me:

You’re locking them in this emotional prison at home and internally. It is so, so offensive. [For me] it was very emotionally traumatizing. In fact, if I had to redo that, I would choose to go to jail in stead. […] When you are locked up, you are in the belly of the beast. If you want to challenge it, you challenge it. You have nothing to lose. People in detention have lost their homes, their families. It is harsh, but understanding that you have lost everything makes you more committed, you are not intimidated by the system itself, so you fight. […] Under ISAP when you have the ankle monitor, you are free to walk around, but if you don’t play ball, you are going to be taken in. You are already in the system, you are afraid that if your stick your head out, you will be sanctioned. The so-called alternative is much more tortuous, it takes control of your life.

47Both Jean and Ravi eventually had their ankle monitors taken off, but they were still enrolled in the ISAP program, and they continuously faced regular check-ins with ICE while their deportation cases were still pending. The next sections of this article will look closer at the ways in which Ravi and Jean took part in collective mobilizations within the immigrant rights movement in New York, and how their increased visibility, which initially served as protection against deportation, later made them targets for deportation.

3.2. Collective mobilizations and their reconfigurations through social media

48Upon their release, both Jean and Ravi became active in community organization Families for Freedom, which had been founded in New York by mixed-status families which had a member in deportation proceedings (Shahani, Kateel, 2008; Das Gupta, 2014; Boe, 2020a). Both soon became involved in the New Sanctuary Coalition, which Jean co-founded, with Ravi becoming the executive director of the New York branch. The Coalition is part of the New Sanctuary Movement (NSM), which was launched in major cities of the USA in May 2007, including New York. The NSM was inspired by the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s, when more than 400 religious congregations offered sanctuary to Central Americans, who had fled persecution from US supported governments, but had been unable to obtain asylum in the United States. The original Sanctuary Movement mobilized for their legalization and encouraged the voicing of “testimonios”, testimonies of repression and US sanctioned violence, which could be brought to the general public’s attention through news media (see Coutin, 2000; Caminero-Santangelo, 2013). Where the New Sanctuary Movement of the 2000s differs from that of the 1980s is that it focused on the mass detentions of undocumented migrants and delegalized formerly permanent residents and that it encouraged deportees, including those who had previously been convicted in the criminal justice system, to represent themselves, to share their own experiences in the public debate while becoming spokespeople for the larger immigrant rights movement (Caminero-Santangelo, 2013).

49An interesting characteristic that distinguished New York based community organizations from similar organizations that have worked for the rights of doubles peines, or criminal deportees in France (Mathieu, 2006) or Great Britain (Hasselberg, 2016), was to systematically encourage members to speak in public and address some of the larger legislative and policy issues that had led to the increase in detentions and deportations, as well as to take an active part in developing the arguments used in campaigns. Along with other community activists who had themselves experienced detention and sometimes prison, Ravi took part in designing curricula and workshops on immigrant rights, which taught immigrants and citizens about larger inequalities of class, race and gender, which were created or reinforced by the changes of immigration law and enforcement. Members came to know existing research by historians, legal scholars and political and social scientists on the history of structural racism, labor exploitation, for-profit confinement and immigration control in the US and discuss strategies for reform, defunding and abolition. Having conducted research in France, it was particularly interesting for me to observe how larger organizations lent their infrastructures such as office meeting spaces to the families of detainees so that they would have safe spaces to discuss larger issues related to grief, trauma and hardships on spouses, children and extended family members, and also discuss strategies for action (Boe, 2020a).

50Citizen members were trained to take part in deportees’ check-ins with ICE, in a strategy defined as “advocacy without confrontation”. Here, they were reminded that violent speech or action would be detrimental to the deportee checking in. Their presence during check-ins made the situations of deportees more visible to a larger arena of citizens, who came to feel personally concerned about the person they supported. I have had the opportunity to participate in dozens of check-ins and court trials and experience how accompaniment programs also re-assured the deportee and their families. In 2011, Jean explained how the program came about:

We have different programs now in the New Sanctuary Movement called accompaniment program, if people check in, we have people go with you. I’m the one who originally did it. When I became part of the Sanctuary, my pastor here she said: “You should never check in by yourself”. For three years I’m checking in with people, and I used to go by myself so I do know the difference. Not only for the person checking in, relaxing, you have people with you who care, and you’re showing them that you have, you know, people with you who are watching them.

51Being a member of a congregation and of a collective movement that reverses the gaze from the deportee to ICE, and being known both personally and virtually by large groups of citizens who are kept up-to-date about one’s situation through social media, gives a sense of protection against detention and deportation.

52The increased availability of Internet access via smartphones has contributed in making the consequences of immigration enforcement visible to a general public and to raising awareness and organizing mobilizations in ways that were unthinkable in the early 2000s, when I first started carrying out research on these issues. With the generalization of social media access, the organization of rallies, meetings, and mobilizations could happen much more swiftly and efficiently than when people had relied on landline phones and paper flyers in case of arrests or detention. Besides the generalization of equipment that makes digital media accessible to most, videos can now be produced cheaply and shared widely through social media sites (Costanza-Chock, 2008). #IsupportRavi, #IStandWithRavi #freejeannow and the more recent #bringjeanhome are some of the hash-tags employed in these digital strategies on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Supporting one individual often goes with an abolitionist stance, and many allies also make use of the hashtags #AbolishBorders or #AbolishICE. These hashtags are often reproduced on signs or posters during demonstrations adding digital visibility to street protests. On a methodological note, as other scholars whose home is far away from the sites where they carry out research, the reconfigurations of community organizing through the democratization of technology made it possible to gain knowledge of and participate in public struggles at a distance in ways that were impossible when communication with research participants – some of them having become close friends – were only possible during stays in the US or through occasional emails or expensive phone calls.

53This was for instance the case when Jean was detained on December 30, 2009 at one of his regular check-ins, where the Coalition mounted an impressive campaign of civil disobedience, hunger strikes, phone calling and letter writing to create political pressure. As part of the demonstrations to ask for Jean’s release, nineteen persons were arrested, among them eleven clergy. Besides the persons who were physically present, a virtual community of supporters on social media mobilized in support of Jean and published news of his detention and the arrests, thus creating their own “border spectacle” (De Genova, 2013) or the media images of deportations that create a sense of the urgency and necessity to deport criminalized foreign-nationals. In these cases, the “border spectacle” is reversed to the advantage of the deportee through non-violent protest and attention to the hardships created by deportation for deportees, their families, congregations and larger communities, thus transforming the experience of powerlessness and individual suffering to one of subjective and collective empowerment made hypervisible (Mountz, 2015) to ICE and a larger public arena (see also Siméant, 1998; Nyers, 2003).

54While his allies were fighting for his release on the outside, Jean was no mere by-stander to his upcoming deportation. Within detention, he mobilized the resources that he had developed during his previous incarceration and detention. As had become his habit, he reached out to all his fellow detainees individually, inquired to everyone’s situation and wellbeing, and met a young man who had a fever. Jean insisted that he ask to see a nurse. When the young man was diagnosed with swine flu, the whole group of deportees, including Jean, was quarantined and their deportation delayed. Before the quarantine was over, the earthquake in Haiti happened, and due to a brief moratorium on deportations to Haiti, Jean was released under an order of supervision after a month in detention.

55For several years after Jean and Ravi’s release from detention, their cases were still pending, and while they continued to comply with regular ICE check-ins, they continued their public activism.

3.3. Digital enclosures and the dangers of hypervisibility

56In 2018, both experienced the dangers of their hypervisibility as prominent immigrant rights leaders. Nine years after his release from detention, in January 2018, Jean was, completely unexpectedly, approached by ICE agents near his home and detained. In spite of public protests from his activist network and from elected politicians, he was quickly deported to Haiti, after having spent 32 years in the USA, 18 years after his release from the penal system and after 13 years of activism within the New Sanctuary Coalition and Families for Freedom.

57While mobilizing to draw public attention to Jean’s arrest, Ravi’s friends and allies worried even more about his upcoming routine check-in with ICE a few days later. As feared, Ravi was taken in for deportation. Ravi’s arrest triggered peaceful protests in public space, with hundreds chanting, “Ravi, Ravi” and “This is a sanctuary city” in front of the ICE building, and the arrests of 18 of Ravi’s supporters, including two members of New York’s City Council. He was transferred to a detention center in Florida, but was later released by a federal judge who deemed his detention to be “unnecessarily cruel”. After Ravi’s release, the New Sanctuary Coalition and other immigrant rights groups filed a lawsuit against the agency in February 2018, in which the litigants argued that ICE was violating the First Amendment by targeting prominent immigrant rights activists for surveillance, arrest and deportation, in order to suppress their political activities.

58In April 2019, Ravi won the lawsuit case at the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit which recognized that his arrest and detention by ICE in January 2018 had violated his First Amendments rights, and that Ravi had produced proof that it had been retaliation against his activism and public criticism of the agency. Ravi’s wife Amy invited me to join them at the New Sanctuary Coalition meeting to celebrate. As Ravi walked into the large community room located in the basement of a Manhattan church, everyone cheered and applauded, and after exchanging hugs and handshakes, we all arranged chairs in a circle and took a seat. As paper cups of sparkling wine were passed around to celebrate, Ravi stood up and addressed the crowd with a characteristic rhythm in his English, which almost three decades living in the US far from his native Trinidad has not erased. A bi-lingual member of the NSC translated his sentences into Spanish for the ones who were not yet fluent enough to follow, having recently arrived to the US as asylum seekers. Amy joined him in expressing their gratitude to those who had been present by their sides for almost a decade, to prevent Ravi and others from being deported. Ravi explained how the court ruling was an important victory, not only for him, but for all migrants and their families, friends and communities. It is a landmark case that recognizes the targeting of immigrant leaders under the Trump administration. Thoughts went to others who were being targeted for deportation or who had already been deported from the USA, including Jean. Ravi concluded with a “You can’t deport a movement!” Looking around me, it struck me how the movement had changed during the past two decades, and how diverse a group we were, of men, women, children and babies in strollers, both long-time activists and new ones to the cause. The persons supported by the NSC included delegalized former long-term residents such as Ravi and Jean but also newly arrived asylum seekers from a variety of countries. Persons of very different backgrounds are now involved in immigrant rights, creating alliances beyond those who are immediately targeted by deportation, who had once been at the core of the movement in the early 2000s. This evening, as during many others that followed in the spring and fall 2019 in New York, allies who were US citizens told me how their interest in the movement stemmed from social media. For many, the call for a reform of current immigration laws and enforcement had resonated with their own family histories that included Jim Crow legislation in the US or anti-Semitic laws in Europe, and an awareness of the dramatic consequences of rapidly changing legislation that contribute to the stigmatization of marginalized groups.

59In a context where visibility once served as protection but can now make persons targets of deportation, the generalization of digital activism has also opened increased possibilities for the surveillance of social movements (Costanza-Chock, 2008). Forms of “digital enclosures” (Andrejevic, 2007) appear when information on activists and their whereabouts are extracted on social media, as two cases concerning the New Sanctuary Coalition show. In March 2019, documents obtained by journalists via a Freedom of Information Act request showed that ICE’s investigative arm, Homeland Security Investigations, had been monitoring protest activities in New York City, among them the NSC. An “Anti-Trump Protest” spreadsheet had been distributed within ICE on 31 July 2018, which documented the numbers of persons who had signed up on Facebook to attend demonstrations that promoted immigrants’ rights and opposed the Trump administration’s deportation policies, as well as one protesting the National Rifle Association (Tobias, 2019; Holpuch, Aratani, 2019).

60The stress created when learning that ICE had paid close attention to protest activities in New York was deepened when leaked Department of Homeland Security documents showed that the federal government was listing the names of some 50 immigration journalists, lawyers and advocates, among them a pastor of the NSC, in a secret government database under a program dubbed Operation Secure Line, with their photo crossed over by a yellow “X”, denoting that they should be held up for questioning by border authorities if they wished to reenter the USA after having crossed the border into Mexico (Khan, 2019).

61Such extensions of illegalization to citizens who help immigrants (Boe, 2020a) seem to increase nationwide, with the penalization of humanitarian aid, and there is currently widespread concern within the movement about the possible long-term consequences of digital enclosures and ICE’s surveillance of activists involved in immigrant rights activism.

4. Conclusion

62However unusual the ways in which Jean and Ravi have been able to contest and subvert internal border control in different institutions and situations of confinement, their experiences of detention, deportation and surveillance are in no way specific to them but concern millions of non-citizens in the United States, and increasingly so. All my research participants made use of “hidden transcripts” within prison and detention, as they took part in what Conlon and Hiemstra call “bartering economies” and resisted against the material conditions of detention and against their own deportation. They built on their connections to networks of activists outside of detention to litigate and to publicize the injustices they encountered within the institution to a broader public arena. Upon their release, both were caught in other forms of surveillance and digital confinement, which they experienced as another layer of injustice that strengthened their commitment to the immigrant rights movement. They both became community leaders while they were still in deportation proceedings, and through their activism and alliances with immigrant rights groups and lawyers, they were able to challenge their deportation for years, in spite of being detained several times. During my initial interviews with Ravi and Jean in 2011, it was very clear that both had experienced their detention as a defining moment, where they decided to engage in fighting detention and deportation for themselves and others. Jean and Ravi’s trajectories show how they were able to use skills that they had built previously, some learned in the prison system, to contest deportation and the immigration detention system.

63In the 1990s and 2000s, the conditions of detainees were largely unknown to a larger public, in spite of the commitment of non-profit organizations and journalists from traditional news media. Today, the conditions of detention are generally known, largely due to their instrumentalization by the Trump administration, which gained support for its anti-immigrant and zero tolerance agenda and brutal practices in ways that are unprecedented in contemporary USA. Before that, however, detention conditions became known through conscious strategies to make them public, supported in large part by the possibilities opened up by the widespread availability of smartphones and the use of visual media and social media to draw attention to the situations of deportees and other exposed migrants. The hardships created by detention and deportation policies for immigrants, their families and communities are more widely known today than a few decades ago, in large part due to the activism of men and women who have experienced prison, detention and electronic monitoring. They have taken part in drawing attention to and to questioning the very necessity of deportations by exposing the larger structural issues of corporate interests, political populism, public spending and injustice along racialized, gendered and class lines.

64The criminalization of immigrants can thus be subverted through public and publicized events that both produce lived experiences and affect among the persons involved and also allows for the transfer of knowledge on the economic rationales of border control and the inequalities they reproduce or create. These forms of contestation, however, encounter increased surveillance and extraction of data through social media. Likewise, the use of electronic monitoring in the ISAP program has been expanded from (mainly male) so-called “criminal deportees” to (mainly female) asylum seekers awaiting their court appearance, as an alternative to family detention, and more recently, digital confinement in the shape of electronic ankle monitors is being replaced by the use of facial recognition technology through smartphones (Byler, Sanchez Boe, 2020). Where Jean, Ravi, and other “criminal deportees” were able to construct alliances with citizens in spite of being submitted to digital confinement, this is much more difficult for asylum seekers who do not already possess a network in the country, leading to more isolation and atomization, which hinders the kinds of collective mobilizations that were facilitated by allies within and beyond the immigrant rights movement, as in the cases examined in this article.

65A last point I would like to make addresses the larger notion of our own involvement as scholars studying contestation and subversion in spaces of confinement, and as citizens engaged in different initiatives that seek to change the situations of prisoners, detainees, and deportees. While the sufferings of deportees and their families are highlighted by organizations such as Families for Freedom or the New Sanctuary Coalition, immigrant led campaigns in the US differ greatly from forms of contestation and subversion against deportation, such as the “Une peine point barre” campaign of the early 2000s in France (Mathieu, 2006; Boe, 2020a). These were organized by citizen advocates, with little involvement from deportees or their families themselves, other than through bearing witness to their and their families’ suffering. In a tradition of community organizing (see also Chauvin, 2010), FFF was, from the outset, founded and managed by families of deportees, alongside with community organizers, as was the case for the NSC. The fact that two men, in a context where they were otherwise labeled as “criminal deportees”, could become community leaders shows a different approach by immigrant rights defenders in the US from France. How can we contribute to allow space for the persons who endure specific legal or social problems to define their own agendas, analyze the stakes at play and develop the tools to contest a situation that concerns them first-hand? The cases analyzed in this article show how civil society groups can lend their infrastructures to the persons concerned, and not only involve them in, but also even let them define the ways in which contestations could or should take place.

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1 ICE manages, among other tasks, deportation, the detention of non-citizens in immigrant detention centers and prison, and their supervision under electronic monitoring, under the US Department of Homeland Security.

2 Detention Watch Network:

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Carolina S. Boe, « Fighting Border Control in Three Sites of Confinement: Contestation and Visibility in Prison, Immigration Detention and Under Digital Confinement in New York »Champ pénal/Penal field [En ligne], 21 | 2020, mis en ligne le 17 décembre 2020, consulté le 26 septembre 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Carolina S. Boe

International Postdoc, Independent Research Fund Denmark, Visiting scholar at Université de Paris CERLIS

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