The Economy of Detainability
Theorizing Migrant Detention
One of the defining features of the socio-political condition of migrants, whatever their precise juridical status within the larger immigration system of any given (nation-)state, is the susceptibility to deportation that is an (almost) universal feature of their non-citizen status. Within any given economy of immigration-related conditionalities and contingencies, migrants always remain more or less deportable. And this deportability – this possibility of being deported, of being forcibly expelled from the space where migrants are actively engaged in making their lives and livelihoods – has profoundly disciplinary repercussions. The dramatic expansion of an effectively global deportation regime in recent years – and the accompanying widening purview of deportability for migrants that has been the effect of diversified and intensified forms of »interior« immigration law enforcement – has generated the conditions of possibility for an analogous expansion of migrant detention. Arguably even more than the onerous punitive power of deportation itself, detention may be understood to enact the sovereign power of a state upon the lives of migrants in a manner that frequently transmutes their deportable status into a de facto legal non-personhood. That is to say, with detention, the effectively rightless condition of deportable migrants culminates in summary (and sometimes indefinite) incarceration on the basis of little more than their sheer existential predicament as »undesirable« non-citizens, usually with little or no recourse to any form of legal remedy or appeal, and frequently no semblance to any due process of law whatsoever. Castigated to a station outside the law, and rendered veritably rightless, their detention then leaves them at the mercy of the caprices of the detention authorities. To adequately comprehend the productivity of this power to detain migrants – a detention power that commonly operates outside and beyond the parameters of any system of criminal law, and has ordinarily been figured as a merely »administrative« matter of expediency in the state's disposal of migrants – we need recourse to a concept of detainability, the susceptibility to detention, the possibility of being detained. And we must interrogate the economy of different conditionalities and contingencies that undergird various degrees by which distinct categories of migrants are subjected by this susceptibility to the detention power.