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Conceptualising US Immigration Detention as Carceral Real Estate

Martin, Lauren L.

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The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement operates the largest detention system in the world, holding over 35,000 people in October 2023. The vast majority of this capacity is outsourced to corrections firms, particularly the two largest, CoreCivic and GEO Group. This article analyses how private corrections firms finance US immigrant detention capacity as a specialised asset class of government real estate. To understand the emergence of “carceral real estate”, I bring political geographies of migration into conversation with economic geographies of real estate. In doing so, I argue that creating “carceral real estate” enables the abstraction and valuation of migrant life as rent and, in turn, presumes a continuously flowing, fungible migrant population. In this context, migrants valued as underpaid labour in the wider economy are re‐valued for their unproductivity in detention. And yet this idealised geography of human and economic flows never fully materialises, but is instead rife with volatility, disruption, and political contestation. The article closes by discussing implications for abolition geographies.


Martin, L. L. (2023). Conceptualising US Immigration Detention as Carceral Real Estate. Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 17, 2023
Online Publication Date Oct 19, 2023
Publication Date 2023
Deposit Date Aug 25, 2023
Publicly Available Date Oct 20, 2023
Journal Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography
Print ISSN 0066-4812
Electronic ISSN 1467-8330
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords real estate, detention, migration, abolition, carceral geographies
Public URL


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