My Research focus

My research examines the role of state actors in producing, managing, and disciplining global flows of irregular migrants. This research emerges out of widespread interest in the resurgence of border security programs in the U.S. and Europe after September 11, 2001, despite continued belief that human society is entering a post-citizenship, post-nationalist phase as a result of multicultural globalization.

The results of my research support well-substantiated claims by geographers that state-led immigration enforcement and control projects are being rescaled “out” into extraterritorial and “in” towards everyday social spaces. The effect of this rescaling, however, remain under-investigated. For instance, the increasingly complex legal landscape of competing federal, state, and local jurisdictions is poorly understood, as are the social control effects for immigrant populations living within the U.S. This is all the more important because in most developed nations, increasingly harsh immigration laws are grounded in territorial sovereignty, and therefore do not conform neatly to liberal theories of the state, the rule of law, and legal procedure.

Despite the density of legal discourses and institutions, however, there has been little attention on the part of geographers to scrutinizing the legal field as a site of struggle over the authority of the state to control migrant populations and retain (and remake) state power. Moreover, researchers have largely ignored the growing numbers of migrants who are caught in the web of legal institutions; as a result, there is little clarity or consensus about how to address the perplexing inability of democratic states to include migrants within modern rights regimes.

In response, over the past five years my fieldwork has been devoted to analyzing the new immigrant control apparatus. I focus on two institutions in particular: the local immigration police state, and the system of immigration courts.

Future Research

My current research is designed to form the foundation for a more international, comparative study of the growth in immigration enforcement projects among developed nations, and increasingly within developing nations, as well. Because most comparative studies are focused on cataloguing formal differences in immigration policy among countries, they lack a grounded, embodied view of immigration control as a social practice that does not correspond predictably to stated goals. On the other hand, detailed, site-specific studies of immigration enforcement – such as my own – tend to expand by reaching into neighboring thematic fields, such as immigrants’ access to health services or the social integration of various ethnic immigrant populations. What these studies miss, and what I intend to explore, is how immigration control projects, both at the level of legal innovation and at the level of institutional practice, circulate globally among networks of global cities and between sites of overlapping state interest. For instance, although the U.S. has had immigration courts (and proto-courts) for over 100 years, only recently have countries in Central America begun to follow suite. Costa Rica, for instance, recently established a court to adjudicate a growing number of immigration claims as a result of increased hardening of borders among Latin American countries. Similarly, in only the past decade Germany has begun to institute deportation procedures against foreign nationals on a widespread scale. Preliminary research and literature reviews suggest that research on the growth of local immigration enforcement, and the internationalization of the U.S. immigration court model will yield high-impact conclusions for geographers and immigration scholars within the U.S. and beyond.