Detention as Deterrence

22 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2019

See all articles by Emily Ryo

Emily Ryo

University of Southern California Gould School of Law

Date Written: January 7, 2019


Over the past few decades, the federal government has justified the use of immigration detention on the basis that it deters unauthorized migration. Simply put, the idea is that detention will send a message that harsh consequences await apprehended migrants, and that such a message will discourage individuals from undertaking the journey to seek entry into the United States. This Essay applies insights from research on deterrence effects of criminal law to explain why immigration detention is unlikely to produce the intended behavioral effects that some policymakers desire. Specifically, I explore three hurdles to achieving deterrence through immigration law: the legal knowledge hurdle, the rational choice hurdle, and the perceived net cost hurdle. I conclude by discussing key questions that detention-as-deterrence policy raises for future research and policy in this area.

Keywords: immigration detention, deterrence, criminal law

Suggested Citation

Ryo, Emily, Detention as Deterrence (January 7, 2019). Stanford Law Review, Vol. 71, 2019, USC CLASS Research Paper No. CLASS19-15, USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 19-15, Available at SSRN:

Emily Ryo (Contact Author)

University of Southern California Gould School of Law ( email )

699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

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