Is there a place for thinking about the relationship between the governance of human mobility and anthropogenic processes in Louisiana? Reading the Andy Horowitz piece about Hurricane Harvey and the McKittrick piece about plantations got me thinking about the governance of human mobility as central to how New Orleans, and especially storms, are narrated. The ways in which mobility is made possible or impeded are central to ’storm narratives’. At the same time, recent news has highlighted how ICE activities have been concentrated in Mississippi, Louisiana, and other parts of the South. As the Southern Poverty Law Center notes, "The South is both a destination for new immigrants seeking security in the U.S. and a staging ground for deportation.” Louisiana - although perhaps not New Orleans - seems to be a key site in which these processes are visible. For instance, a report on NBC suggested that, “the number of detainees in facilities contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Louisiana and Mississippi surged from just over 2,000 at the end of 2017 to more than 8,000 as of July. That’s nearly four times as many as were detained in the two states in November 2017, the numbers show. Louisiana, with a population of more than 6,500, now has the largest population of ICE detainees of any single state apart from Texas.”
One reason for this increase in numbers is financial.
According to the SPLC, "The South, which already has some of the highest rates of incarceration in the country, is the bargain basement of immigration detention. Facilities charge among the lowest per diem rates in the country in order to land Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts that can create jobs for communities, revenue for municipalities and profits for private prison operators, no matter the long-term cost. It’s an approach that flows from the South’s long history of looking to prisons filled mostly with people of color as a way to build local economies – a history that includes chain gangs and programs that “leased” prisoners to companies for work. Today, immigrant detention is but the latest chapter in that history” https://www.splcenter.org/20161121/shadow-prisons-immigrant-detention-south).
Yet as this quote suggests, this mode of detention is also historical, and that history seems to play out in a number of ways. Facilities used to detain migrants have often also been used as prisons (including the La Salle detention center in Jena, Louisiana), for instance. But it seems that tensions around the notion of New Orleans as a "city of refuge” (Munyikwa 2019) are long-standing. Even as today, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports highlighted Cuban immigrants/asylum seekers, so too are tensions over racialized Caribbean migration longstanding. In the aftermath of the Haitian revolution, New Orleans was a kind of “flashpoint” (Kazanjian 2003) for tensions over migration and race as both French settlers from Haiti fled to Louisiana and as Afro-Creole refugees were expelled from Cuba. One report of the 1809 migration describes how “in Louisiana, as lawmakers moved to suppress manumission and undermine the free black presence, the refugees dealt a serious blow to their efforts.”
These are all clumsy linkages, and I’m not sure I want to draw historical analogies across contexts about which I have only cursory knowledge, but it seems to me that there are linkages or repetitions of connections between labor, environment, and human mobility that for me provoke questions about the relationship between anthropocenics and regimes of human mobility and carcerality (beyond just the notion of ‘climate refugees’).
Southern Poverty Law Center & National Lawyers’ Guild
Munyikwa, Michelle. 2019. ‘Up from the dirt’: Racializing Refuge, Rupture, and Repair in Philadelphia. Dissertation submitted to the Department of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania.