Systemic Deterrence against Prospective Asylum Seekers: A Study of the South Texas Immigration District


In May of 1992, the Bush Administration initiated a policy of intercepting thousands of Haitian refugees en route to Florida and returning them to Haiti, and likely death, without providing any determination of their political asylum claims. This episode publicly brought into question the United States’ commitment to the United Nations Protocol on Political Refugees, which states that political refugee status should be determined on a fact-specific and non-ideological basis. The author has spent several years on the Texas/Mexico border in South Texas watching the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and its sister agencies police the border and operate the political asylum application process. The author has observed first-hand that the careless disregard of potential political asylum claims is not limited to the waters south of Florida. In South Texas the INS and its sister agencies are seemingly uninterested in determining whether each refugee applying for political asylum has been persecuted in the past or has a well-founded fear of persecution in her country of origin, the legal standard for political asylum. Furthermore, this problem is not isolated to any part of the political asylum process; it is systemic.

In the South Texas immigration district (the District), the INS maintains a system of coercion and deterrence that has, in effect, turned the entire lower Rio Grande Valley into a detention zone. Aliens generally are not free to leave; they receive no government funds and must pay all their own expenses. Even when the INS lifts travel restrictions, aliens are often required to post high bonds. This requirement effectively restricts travel even when it is permitted, and causes great hardship for asylum applicants.

Suggested Reading

Panel I: Defund Means Defund Andrea Ritchie (she/her) is a Black lesbian immigrant whose writing, litigation, and advocacy has focused on policing of women and LGBT people of color for the past two decades. She is currently a researcher with