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Since the end of the Cold War, migration has become a key security issue in the US. This securitization has resulted in the militarization of US border management. However, these policies have failed to halt undocumented immigration and instead increased the US’s unauthorized population. Since 2000, apprehensions along the US-Mexico border have been declining relatively steadily. At the same time, detainee populations have expanded enormously. This is the central puzzle of this thesis. If these policies are failing to achieve their goals, or are simply unnecessary given the lack of a threat, why do securitization and counterproductive border management policies continue to perpetuate? Are they truly counterproductive when we interrogate unofficial aims as opposed to publicly stated goals? To answer these questions, I advance and develop the concept of the “border-management industry” which I define as the vast network of actors who profit economically and politically from the securitization of migration and deployment of restrictive policies, technology, and infrastructure both on the US-Mexico border and throughout the US. I utilize this framework to argue that militarized border management endures and expands because, in the context of unstated aims, these policies are extremely productive and profitable for a variety of actors. The unstated aims I identify are profit (loosely interpreted to include funding and campaign contributions), political capital, and economic development. In the context of immigration detention, private companies, and even non-profits, publicly argue for efficiency and lower costs, but have increased government expenditures and profited handsomely. State agencies and politicians, allegedly acting to curb immigration, work to ensure their continued funding and the economic development of their constituencies, often in ways that perpetuate the problem. As these actors benefit substantially, perverse incentives are created, and they actively seek to ensure that restrictive policies continue to be implemented. In undertaking this analysis, this dissertation contributes to the literature an improved understanding of the securitization of migration and the militarization of US border management.



Working paper


Refugee Studies Centre

Publication Date



RSC Working Paper Series 132

Total pages