"Doing right by the kids": The role discourses of "helping" and care play in family detention policy

Authors: Leanne Purdum*,
Topics: Immigration/Transnationalism, Human Rights, Qualitative Methods
Keywords: immigration, detention, children, law, Texas
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Mid-City, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The detention of immigrant children in the U.S. has called the attention of legal activists and resulted in a complex argument over how and when children and mothers can be detained. This paper focuses on my volunteer work in the largest of the 3 existing family detention centers, the South Texas Family Residential Center (STFRC), in Dilley Texas. I frame the center as a strange cultural product that is a consequence of immigration enforcement, lawsuits by advocates over the detention of children, and a supposedly humanitarian arm of immigration services. During recent lawsuits challenging the detention center, the federal defendants argued that children with their mothers CAN be detained in secure facilities because existing standards apply only to “unaccompanied” children (not to those accompanied by a parent). This underlying logic is just one example of how “children” are framed and understood in immigrant detention, and the role these framings play in current immigration policy. Using examples from the detention center, as well as analysis from transcripts of hearings, I describe a complicated relationship between the supposed care for children that coincides with the enforcement procedures through which immigration officers determine which children will be deported. In other words, narratives of care about children plays a necessary role in creating the detention center and provides a framing for a seemingly impossible task: sorting little children and their mothers into categories of “illegal” and “legitimate asylum seeker”.

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