Detention, Disappearance, and the Power of Language
During the 20th century, military dictatorships in Latin America became notorious for kidnapping and torturing their citizens. Because many of those kidnapped never returned, family members began to name and denounce this repression as “disappearance,” coining the term los desaparecidos (the disappeared) to discursively highlight the systematic nature of this form of state violence. We are in a new era of los desaparecidos, this time perpetrated by the US government against the racialized bodies of immigrants.
Immigration law enforcement and deportation in the US has grown exponentially over the past few decades, ripping people unexpectedly from their families and communities through raids and police encounters and placing them in a labyrinthine detention system. As the human impact of this system has manifested, it has become the target of denunciation and resistance throughout the Americas. One battleground in this contested ㎝�eld is the language used to describe migration: on the one hand, alarmist discourses of threat and securitization help to normalize and justify these oppressive practices; on the other, activists use rhetoric to reframe issues through campaigns such as Migration is Beautiful. Like Guantánamo Bay, immigrant detention is the locus of some of the most iconic forms of state repression in our contemporary world—detainees occupy conditions of bare life (Agamben, 1998) and racialized rightlessness (Cacho 2012)—but also a site of refusal and assertion as the detained, the deportable, and their allies denounce the illegitimacy of this use of state power.
American Anthropological Association
Hallett, Miranda Cady and Arnold, Lynnette, "Detention, Disappearance, and the Power of Language" (2016). Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work Faculty Publications. 86.