(Re)producing Boundaries While Enforcing Borders in Immigration Detention


  • Laura Rezzonico University of Neuchâtel (nccr - on the move, Centre for Migration Law, Laboratory of Transnational Studies and Social Processes)




Immigrant detention, exclusion, borders, boundaries, deservingness


Immigration detention centres can be conceptualised as sites of bordering that separate the wanted from the unwanted and reify the boundary between citizens and non-citizens. Using boundary making as an analytical lens that allows getting insights into the work of borders, this paper addresses the relationship between staff and detainees in these ambiguous sites, asking how staff members engage in boundary work to distance themselves from the pains of detainees and to legitimise their work in an institution of exclusion. It considers boundary making based on three kinds of categories – race, ethnicity and culture; (il)legality and (un)deservingness; and unknownness and criminality – that are morally charged. Through the construction of detainees as culturally and morally different, illegal and undeserving, as well as potentially dangerous, prison staff contribute to the reinforcement of borders, legitimating their exclusionary dimension.

Author Biography

Laura Rezzonico, University of Neuchâtel (nccr - on the move, Centre for Migration Law, Laboratory of Transnational Studies and Social Processes)

Laura Rezzonico is a PhD candidate at the University of Neuchâtel (Switzerland) and a former fellow of the NCCR-on the move "The Migration-Mobility Nexus". Her PhD explores practices and experiences of immigration detention in Switzerland with an ethnographic approach.


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How to Cite

Rezzonico, L. (2020). (Re)producing Boundaries While Enforcing Borders in Immigration Detention. Migration Letters, 17(4), 521–530. https://doi.org/10.59670/ml.v17i4.692