The Future of Immigration Enforcement and Surveillance
Part Two of a conversation between James Kilgore and Daniel Gonzalez on the ever-expanding electronic infrastructure used to monitor migrants. Read Part One here.
James Kilgore: It’s important that we not view what happened in Mississippi recently as an isolated event or an anomaly. In your research you highlighted a raid on two Nebraska plants almost a year to the day before the early August ICE attack on Mississippi plants that resulted in the capture of nearly 700 people. These are not coincidental events. You noted that the timing seemed to coincide with reducing the costs of employers. Could you explain this? Do you think this is common practice?
Daniel Gonzalez: Two caveats: At the moment we neither have operational details about the Mississippi raids, nor confirmation that DHS has implemented the above-mentioned prototypes. However, recent news reports about the union-busting aim of the Mississippi raids corroborate my proposal that information management practices monitor migrants’ whereabouts and their labor productivity. Also illustrative are the raids in Nebraska, which coincided with the end of the tomato and potato growing and processing seasons — and end of the need for harvesters. For both Mississippi and Nebraska, the raids did not hinder the corporations themselves and may have actually benefited them. In Mississippi the administration avoided union power; in Nebraska the companies saved a lot of money because they didn’t have to pay people who had just worked a 70-hour work week to finish up the season and whose labor was no longer needed. Although the raids targeted employers of “illegal” labor, tellingly, neither the owners nor high-level management were disciplined.
James: You mentioned an ICE program called Investigative Case Management (ICM) earlier. Can you say a little more about ICM and suggest how it might involve electronic monitoring?
Daniel: ICM is a version of Palantir’s Gotham Platform, an information management system, that links a network of public and private databases. DHS explains: “ICM contains extensive information related to individuals including targets of investigations, associates of targets, victims, informants, and other third parties. This includes . . . identifying data, as well as information about individuals’ locations and activities.” Through ICM, ICE determines the most efficient way to create targets, cases, and operations. EM is just the tip of the iceberg. EM is one of many data technologies that puts dots on a map (see here), but ICM connects those dots (like this). If these practices aren’t alarming enough, ICE doing business with Palantir, whose co-founder, Peter Thiel, professed in his 2009 manifesto: “I no longer believe that freedom [i.e. capitalism] and democracy are compatible,” should raise huge concerns.
James: ICM seems to be taking us in new, often scary directions. Given that, what do you see as the future direction of electronic monitoring and surveillance more generally, especially as it applies to immigration enforcement?
Daniel: I see a switch happening: surveillance is targeting both individuals and entire groups or social networks. As I mentioned earlier, regarding immigration enforcement, EM plays only a small part. The bigger concern is systems like ICM that incorporate EM’s geographic information while also folding in data from a person’s entire social network, which includes data on both noncitizens and citizens. So, everyone associated with a person in the ICM system is now potentially put under DHS’s watch. As indicated by Thiel’s manifesto, these technologies should be seen as part of a larger political economic project that is trying to strip away democracy and human and civil rights.
James: What tools and methods can we use to resist this further expansion of the surveillance state and the criminalization of immigrants?
Daniel: This is difficult because we do not fully understand how all of this works. Currently, I see successful models of resistance: activist groups, like Mijente, are confronting the surveillance industry. Tech workers and students have been challenging their field’s general practices. In our everyday lives, we should all be more cautious of the data and information we produce. I also think using similar technologies, such as social media, as a form of resistance is a Faustian bargain — on the one hand these platforms provide helpful information and even spread necessary awareness of state violence, but on the other hand they may extend the capacity of technologies like ICM. Without democratic ownership or control of the underlying information infrastructures “social media” is not that social. Finally, as we (rightfully) oppose the tech industry, we must also consider why the state has invested billions into this technology. If something like ICM proves successful, then more and more people that have historically been rendered as problems (noncitizen and citizen) will be governed under surveillance and computational procedure.
If something like ICM proves successful, then more and more people that have historically been rendered as problems (noncitizen and citizen) will be governed under surveillance and computational procedure.
James: So I think an important part of what you are saying is not only that we don’t fully understand how all of this works, but that we don’t fully understand how to organize or what organizational forms we will need to roll this back. In Challenging E-Carceration and #NoDigitalPrisons we have largely been focusing on how ankle shackles are increasingly used on people with criminal cases, whether it be as a condition of pretrial release, an added burden of parole or as part of a youth court determination. But what is happening under ICE and DHS is much more complicated and sinister than that.
As you suggest in your closing comments, this ICE methodology also lays a foundation for tracking and profiling entire communities by combining EM with the numerous databases in which poor and criminalized people, disproportionately Black and brown, are already captured. These are -the databases of the poor and criminalized-public benefits, family court and DCFS, school discipline, mental health, etc. In addition, it isn’t difficult to see how these systems can create and target networks of activists to keep an eye on them or undermine their activities and organizations. Looking back at COINTELPRO of the 60s and 70s we see that this can happen either through disrupting information systems or more direct policing informed by data collection. This also highlights the burning need to be linking the struggles in the immigration and criminal legal spheres in ways that we have not done very effectively to date. Liberation can never come by remaining in siloes. We need solidarity and movements that connect the dots. Your work makes that all the more evident. Thank you so much for your amazing work.
James Kilgore is a Media Fellow at Media Justice. He directs the Challenging E-Carceration project as part of the #NoDigitalPrisons campaign and was a 2017 Soros Justice Fellow. He is the author of five books, including the award-winning Understanding Mass Incarceration:A People’s Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time. In his community of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois he is Co-Director of FirstFollowers Reentry Program.
Daniel Gonzalez is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography and Geographic Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research focuses on the science and technologies of racial capitalism, particularly as they pertain to regimes of US border enforcement and immigration management.