The Escalation of Crimmigration, Detention, and Removals during the Era of "Humane" US INS Enforcement, 1961–69

Thursday, January 5, 2017: 3:50 PM
Room 203 (Colorado Convention Center)
Jennifer L. Cullison, University of Colorado at Boulder
In 1954, with the closure of Ellis Island and other detention centers, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) inaugurated a new protocol: parole instead of incarcerate undocumented immigrants.  In 1996 the INS effected a policy reversal: detention would follow apprehension almost automatically.  This together with deputizing other government agencies to make more apprehensions caused the INS to expand to detain more than 32,000 migrants daily.  How did the U.S. government justify the movement toward mass immigrant detention and when were the turning points before 1996?

Historical analysis of increased criminalization of Latin American migrants in the mid-twentieth-century U.S. provides an answer. As the 1964 termination of the Bracero guest worker program closed the most common legal means of Latin American migrant entry into the U.S., media and government officials increasingly correlated undocumented migrants with crime. Compounded by Cold War fears of the “other” and a sense that the border was a poorly guarded conduit for foreign subversives, they began using the language of what Leo Chavez calls the “Latino threat narrative” (Chavez 2008). As undocumented immigrants became a “danger to the country,” the INS increased its apprehension and monitoring of alleged illegals.  Despite eliminating racially-based nation immigration quotas, the Johnson administration expanded the number of INS detention centers from one in 1954 to three by 1967.  In this period, already the Executive Branch and INS had a rhetorical strategy for defining and caging detainees. 

As a focused study on the LBJ administration, my study opens discussion of high-level bureaucratic discourse on undocumented immigration and criminality in the period leading to mass detention. Because the rhetorical connection between immigrant criminalization and detention was not new in 1996, this story of the INS and Executive Branch after the end of the Bracero Program addresses an important historiographic lacuna.