The settlers and their prisons: Carl D. Lindskoog, ‘Migration, Racial Empire, and the Carceral Settler State’ The Journal of American History, 109, 2, 2022, pp. 388-398


Abstract: The 1920s saw the triumph of nativism and xenophobia. The Immigration Acts of 1921 and 1924 excluded groups labeled undesirable by American lawmakers. At the same time, the creation of the U.S. Border Patrol and the Immigration Act of 1929 gave the state new powers to control the movement and exploit the labor of racialized minorities that entered U.S. territory. Immigration restriction and enforcement in the 1920s thus represents a critical chapter in America’s history of migration, race, and empire. But this history begins long before the pivotal 1920s and continues well after. This essay argues that immigration detention and other forms of incarceration are tools of state violence that have been used to advance ongoing projects of U.S. settler colonialism and racial empire. A process that seeks to eliminate Indigenous people so that the land can be permanently occupied by the white settler population, settler colonialism also seeks the permanent marginalization and perpetual exploitability of other nonwhite groups whose labor is crucial to colonialism. From its foundation as a settler colony, the United States has grown to become a racial empire that extends beyond North America. Tracing the government’s use of immigration detention back to its origins in the nineteenth century, this essay documents the evolution of incarceration as one tool of removal, elimination, and social control used by American officials. It finds that incarceration worked in tandem with other tools of state violence such as immigration restriction and counterinsurgent warfare, all of which were designed to impose order on the unstable frontiers of empire and to eliminate anticolonial resistance. This is a story of how the United States grew from a settler colony into a racial empire and became a carceral settler state by the turn of the twenty-first century.

%d bloggers like this: