Immigration Detention Across the Globe

immigrationdetention-226x226Post written by Luis Rodriguez, JD expected ‘16, Pace University School of Law

The intensification of terrorist attacks in the past decade have led to strict border security against immigration and counterterrorism, pushing the boundaries of democratic governments around the globe. Countries throughout the world have implemented detention policies as a means of punishment, crime prevention, or administrative convenience in response to global migration. The policies have led to massive violations of international human rights law, humanitarian law as well as refugee law.

Not surprisingly, the United States has been the pioneer of the implementation of these practices and detention.

The Modern U.S. immigration detention estate first began to take shape in the early 1980s, when the Reagan-era INA began systematically apprehending undocumented migrants from certain countries in response to growing migration pressures from the Caribbean and opened a number of new detention centres in Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland to cope with the resulting surge in detainees.

The policies carried out by governments to place migrants in detention centers commenced with “off-shore management”. After the Cold War, United States Coast Guard vessels began to chase down smuggling boats. As stated by Flynn,

The Curts’ [Guided-Missile Warship] operational transformation is part of a broader, global phenomenon involving efforts by the world’s major industrialized democracies to block—or ‘manage’—migrants long before they reach their intended destinations.

The implementation of this policy led to one of the worst Human Rights violations in recent memories. In 1991, the U.S. Government began to detain thousands of Haitians in Guantanamo Bay who were fleeing persecution from the Haitian government. Some of the Haitians were left in the detention center for years. The U.S. Government was able to intercept Haitian vessels on the high seas due to a treaty signed by the Reagan Administration and Haitian Dictator Duvalier.  The reasoning by the U.S. Government: Admitting and processing thousands of Haitian refugees to the U.S. was too risky—especially with reports that many Haitians were infected with the AIDS virus. When the refugees were placed in Guantanamo Bay—U.S. immigration and asylum policy didn’t apply. Although it was promoted as a humanitarian mission, the Haitian refugees were detained in makeshift tent cities behind barbed wire on a U.S. military base.

The United States policies and similar policies executed by other countries cannot continue to treat refugees and migrants in an inhumane way. We cannot treat Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees as criminals especially in the humanitarian crisis we now face. These people have lost loved ones, community members, and have had everything they own taken from them.

The deprivation of liberty of non-citizens for reasons related to their immigration status is inexcusable and as global citizens we must make sure that to discourage the expansion of immigration detention.


  1. Barbara Crossette, Haitians Fleeing Again to U.S. Asylum, N.Y. Times, (Jan. 28, 1992),
  2. Cathryn Costello, Human Rights and the Elusive Universal Subject: Immigration Detention Under International Human Rights and EU Law, 19 Ind. J. Global Legal Stud. 257 (2012).
  3. Michael Flynn, How and Why Immigration Detention Crossed the Globe, Global Detention Project Working Paper No. 8 (2014).
  4. Brandt Goldstein, Storming the Court, How a Band of Yale Law Students Sued the President—and Won 18 (2005).

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