Publications by Year: 2009


This article provides a genealogy of the idea of an immigration industrial complex.The immigration industrial complex isthe confluence of public and privatesector interests in the criminalizationof undocumented migration, immigrationlaw enforcement, and the promotion of ‘anti-illegal’ rhetoric. This concept isbased on ideas developed with regardto the prison and military industrialcomplexes. These three complexes sharethree major features: (a) a rhetoric offear; (b) the convergence of powerful interests; and (c) a discourse of other-ization.This article explores why Congress has notpassed viable legislation to deal withundocumented migration, and instead has passed laws destined to fail, and hasappropriated billions of dollars to the Department of Homeland Security toimplement these laws. This has been exacerbated in the context of the War on Terror,now that national security has been conflated with immigration law enforcement.This is the first in a two-part serieson the immigration industrial complex.

The concept of an immigration industrial complex draws from previous work on the prison industrial complex and the military industrial complex. All three of these complexes point to the ways that the interests of government bureaucracies, corporate elites, and politicians shape laws and policies. This article explains how the undocumented status of migrants provides advantages to at least three groups: (a) media pundits who make their careers railing against ‘illegal aliens’; (b) politicians who use undocumented migrants as scapegoats; and (c) contractors who profit from massive immigration enforcement expenditures. The disenfranchised status of undocumented migrants enhances the ability of each of these groups to benefit from their presence. This confluence of interests explains why Congress has not enacted viable immigration policies that effectively deal with the ‘problem’ of illegal immigration. This is the second in a two-part series on the immigration industrial complex.