Non-citizens' Experiences with Immigrant Detention and the U.S. Legal System

Awarded Scholars:
Emily Ryo, University of Southern California
Project Date:
May 2016
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration

Immigration detention is the fastest growing—yet the least studied—type of incarceration. In 2013, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained over 440,500 immigrants pending completion of their immigration cases. Because the primary purpose of detention is to facilitate the removal of non-citizens if they are adjudicated to be removable due to violations of immigration laws, detention is deemed to be administrative, not criminal, in nature. Yet, most immigration detention facilities were originally built and currently operate as prisons that confine pre-trial and sentenced felons. How do immigrant detainees experience detention and the legal system? How do these experiences shape their attitudes toward the law and legal authority?

Sociologist and legal expert Emily Ryo will investigate detainees' everyday experiences in detention that might enhance or erode the detainees’ perceptions of procedural fairness and distributive justice. She will also explore detainee's experiences with navigating the legal system, such as their efforts to obtain legal information, find legal representation, and participate in court hearings. Ryo draw on four datasets pertaining to long-term immigrant detainees who are members of the class action lawsuit, Rodriguez v. Robbins, in order to analyze the legal experiences of detainees in immigration courts and their interactions with legal authorities.


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