Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Global and Sociocultural Studies

First Advisor's Name

Mark Padilla

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Jorge Duany

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Third Advisor's Name

Rosa Chang

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Benjamin Smith

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member


Immigration, Immigration Detention, Transfers, Critical Medical Anthropology, Mobility

Date of Defense



The United States has the largest detention infrastructure in the world, with over 250 official detention centers and over 1,000 partner facilities. This research project aimed to analyze the U.S. immigration detention system to understand how the history of U.S. immigration and U.S. social structures like immigration law and detention practices, specifically transfers, affect immigrants. Woven into U.S. detention practices is a long history of exploitive and racist policies that have scapegoated new waves of immigrants since the late 1800s, which evolved toward the criminalization of immigrants in the mid-1990s.

One of the contributions of this dissertation is its focus on transfers – the movement of detainees between detention centers – as these are a growing detention practice and are often excluded from media coverage and immigration literature. This dissertation demonstrates how transfers contribute significantly to the maintenance of the deportation regime and the trauma and emotional effects of detention. It also analyzes the motivations behind transfers, including the operational, financial, strategic, and punitive incentives that drive these movements of detainees.

Fifteen (15) semi-structured interviews were conducted with detainees following their
Qualitative interviews allowed participants to express, in their own words, their experiences of immigration detention, particularly the effects of transfers between detention centers, and the impacts that detention practices had on them physically and psychologically.

This research provides testimony that immigration detention transfers indisputably increase the suffering and negative impacts of detention on detainees’ overall well-being. In their narratives, the participants reported inhumane conditions and human rights violations and expressed their fear of being transferred. They also illustrated instances where transfers were used punitively, confirming that Immigration and Customs Enforcement fails to follow many of its own standards and regulations regarding transfers. Transfers are one more component of the immigration industry that prioritizes profit over human rights.

Ending immigrant detention is the ultimate solution to eliminate the trauma faced by detainees. This dissertation offers alternatives to detention and other recommendations that can be implemented to ameliorate immigrant experiences while detention continues.





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