Although the punitive character of the contemporary U.S. regime of immigration enforcement has been widely noted, less research has inquired into punishment beyond the realms of imprisonment and detention, the particular rationale of punishment and the way in which punitive enforcement shapes (rather than targets) race. By analyzing the anti-immigrant rhetoric prevalent in these debates and the practices of immigration enforcement, I argue that punishment is best understood as a violent reassertion of narratives of the United States as a nation of laws in the face of challenges to U.S. political and economic hegemony. The rhetoric and practices result in two kinds of productive effects. First, they shape, reinforce, and/or transform the particular meaning of race that is taken for granted in contemporary immigration politics. Second, they constitute punitive realms of lived experience for migrants. I illustrate these claims through an examination of policies and practices that characterize contemporary immigration enforcement. Punishment, instead of acting simply as retribution, fulfills functions of regeneration, discipline, or moralization, among others, and treats different subpopulations of immigrants differently. Importantly, some of these interventions are inclusionary, but they involve the creation of a particular subjectivity among the immigrant subjects selected for inclusion. I illustrate the effects of this selectively inclusive politics through an analysis of the (failed) DREAM Act. I conclude by examining the implications of this framework for understanding the current stalemate in U.S. immigration politics.
Keywords: Immigration; Foucault; Biopolitics; Punishment; Race; Latino Politics.