Mitigating the Violence of Mass Immigration Detention Through Community-Based Case Management




Immigration detention, criminalization, strengths-based case management, state violence, decarceration, alternatives to detention


Immigration detention causes psychological, physiological, and financial harm, primarily to noncitizens of color. Following a mass release of “lower-priority" individuals, responses to the COVID-19 pandemic provide an opportunity to envision a system more focused on freedom and pragmatism rather than retributive and ineffective notions of human warehousing and deterrence. Utilizing community-based case management (CBCM), a majority of detained noncitizens could be immediately returned to their families and communities under agency discretion. While some alternatives to incarceration serve as extensions of the carceral state, CBCM maintains required court appearances and preserves occupational and familial obligations at a fraction of detention costs without the need for intensive surveillance or restrictions. Drawing upon available research, theories of violence, and strengths-based case management, this article critically examines the emergence of mass immigration detention in the United States and considers a noncarceral approach to mitigate such state violence against detained noncitizens, as well as their families and communities. The profession of social work is uniquely positioned to implement CBCM to address the mass detention crisis and the grand challenge of smart decarceration. Social workers are well-equipped to 1) advocate for sensible decarceration policy, 2) conduct action-oriented scholarly research on the impacts of detention and outcomes of CBCM, and 3) provide integrated case management for noncitizens in immigration removal proceedings.

Author Biographies

Douglas J. Epps, University of California, Berkeley

School of Social Welfare, PhD Candidate

Kurt C. Organista, University of California, Berkeley

School of Social Welfare, Professor


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