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The Dog-Whistle Politics of Immigration Detention

Stephanie Silverman, Adjunct Professor, Ethics, Society and Law, Trinity College

Published April 20, 2018 by Technologies of Justice.

On January 27, 2018, Stephanie Silverman presented The Dog-Whistle Politics of Immigration Detention during the Technologies of Justice Conference session titled Immigration and Refugee Law Issues Under the Microscope. The conference took place at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.



Silverman spoke about the restoration of the Habeas Corpus writ and the definition of 'detention' in Canadian law in terms of immigration. She put into perspective how detention on the grounds of identity, criminality and flight risk is often used, explaining the original meaning of 'detention' as a pre-deportation measure, a way of dealing with immigration incidents that was non-punitive, non-arbitrary, and a measure of last resort.

She pointed out that now it is more often a case of incarceration of up to 90 days, with errors and misjudgments causing situations reminiscent of a catch-22 (a dilemma from which there is no escape). She stated that incarceration is often based on non-criminal charges and that seemingly trivial things can snowball to impede access to justice. She described how race and gender prejudices linking migrants to criminality can create uncertain situations for immigrants and refugees. She focused on how economic-class immigrants are often put into a battle against other types of immigrants and refugees to gain access, and how the wide gaps in the theory versus practice and lack of follow-through become very apparent in the system.
One of the major issues Silverman brought up was the characterization of detention as a difference from the norm; the implications this has for an understanding of our immigration system; and how the prejudicial treatment of immigrants and the failure to notice this can cause immigrants to be marked for incarceration due to prejudices before they even have the chance to get to an interview. She emphasized that individual case-driven problem solving cannot be considered significant in a system that is stacked against the individual.