, Volume 55, Issue 3, pp 1147–1193 | Cite as

Beyond the Border and Into the Heartland: Spatial Patterning of U.S. Immigration Detention

  • Margot Moinester


The expansion of U.S. immigration enforcement from the borders into the interior of the country and the fivefold increase in immigration detentions and deportations since 1995 raise important questions about how the enforcement of immigration law is spatially patterned across American communities. Focusing on the practice of immigration detention, the present study analyzes the records of all 717,160 noncitizens detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2008 and 2009—a period when interior enforcement was at its peak—to estimate states’ detention rates and examine geographic variation in detention outcomes, net of individual characteristics. Findings reveal substantial state heterogeneity in immigration detention rates, which range from approximately 350 detentions per 100,000 noncitizens in Connecticut to more than 6,700 detentions per 100,000 noncitizens in Wyoming. After detainment, individuals’ detention outcomes are geographically stratified, especially for detainees eligible for pretrial release. These disparities indicate the important role that geography plays in shaping individuals’ chances of experiencing immigration detention and deportation.


Immigration detention Interior enforcement Deportation Immigration policy Spatial inequality 



This research was supported by the Inequality and Social Policy Program and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University and completed while I was a fellow at the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. I thank TRAC for sharing their immigration detention data and Arjen Leerkes for sharing data on interior immigration enforcement programs and immigration policies across U.S. states. I also thank Jason Beckfield, Brielle Bryan, Kareem Carr, Filiz Garip, Simo Goshev, Sasha Killewald, Barbara Kiviat, Charlotte Lloyd, Collin Payne, Jessica Simes, Philip Torrey, Mary Waters, Bruce Western; and seminar participants at the Harvard University Migration and Immigrant Incorporation Workshop; Weatherhead Center Graduate Student Associates program; Kennedy School Proseminar on Inequality and Social Policy; the III CINETS Conference; and the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.American Bar FoundationChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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