The View From Ecuador: Security, Insecurity, and Chaotic Geographies of U.S. Migrant Detention and Deportation

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Alison Mountz


Deportation, Detention, Ecuador, Immigration, Security

Subject Categories



The central argument of this dissertation is that while the immigration enforcement policies of detention and deportation are politically positioned as critical strategies for protecting U.S. homeland security, these policies actually create insecurity at multiple scales. The project, grounded in both critical geopolitics and feminist political geography, endeavors to interrogate the "master narratives" behind these restrictive policies. First, the dissertation explores the historical, political, and cultural factors behind the United States' increased use of detention and deportation, as well as the deep-seated structural factors driving Ecuadorian migration to the United States. Then, drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Ecuador with deportees and family members of detained migrants, the study seeks to understand ways in which these policies are embodied both within and outside U.S. borders. It is suggested that the detention and deportation system engenders chaos - or the appearance of chaos - in numerous spaces and for various groups of individuals. Three "chaotic geographies" of the system are explored in order to scrutinize the enactment of immigration policy: the operation of the system itself, detainees' experiences, and reverberations of detention and deportation in Ecuador. Data show that inside U.S. borders, these enforcement policies interact recursively with processes of racialization and criminalization to generate insecurity for detained migrants and discipline employees to behave in particular ways. In addition, due to its inherent disorder and confusion, the detention and deportation system projects a cloak of impenetrability that hides the powerful actors behind its expansion, faults, and abuses. The dissertation then investigates how the chaos of detention and deportation extends transnationally to countries of migrant origin to produce insecurity precisely at the scale of the home for migrants' families, communities, and for returned migrants. In Ecuador, detention and deportation increase economic and ontological insecurity for family members and returned migrants in ways that spread throughout communities. Moreover, data from Ecuador illustrate that policymakers' objectives of deterrence do not play out as anticipated. In this project, the author joins critical scholars in calling for an expanded understanding of the concept of security, one which incorporates multiple scales and operates across political borders.


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