Faculty Advisor

Jacobson, Robin

Area of Study

Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Publication Date

Summer 2019


As undocumented immigration has come to the forefront of mainstream political priorities in the last two decades, the number of immigrants being detained in the US has grown much faster than bed space in detention centers meant to house them. For Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the solution has been to contract with state, county, and local jails. As of 2017, around 850 such jails around the country had Intergovernmental Service Agreements with ICE to rent out bed space. For local jails, these contracts can bring in much needed revenue to keep the jail running without taxing the local community. However, as law professor Margo Schlanger testified before the Homeland Security Advisory Council in 2016, “chaotic local jails are even less equipped to deal with immigration populations than even the ‘prison-like’ dedicated private detention centers” and the only federal oversight they are subject to are inspections that are “very very difficult to fail”.

These contracts, and the issues that come with them, have become more public over time, leading many communities to demand that their local governments cancel their contracts. But the timing of the terminations -- if they happened at all -- and the conditions that surrounded them have differed immensely from place to place. This raises the central question of my research: what factors contribute to this variance in how local communities resist ICE contracts with their jails, when resistance happens, and its level of success? I argue that these differences can be explained by variation in jails’ economic and political structures, the discourse used by resistors, and the larger political climate in which the community is embedded.


University of Puget Sound