Precarious Legal Patchworking: Detained Immigrants' Access to Justice

Book on immigration law sitting beside a gavel

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Speaker: Mirian Martinez-Aranda, Chancellor's Postdoctoral Fellow, Sociology, UC Davis


As immigration enforcement increases, so does the detention of immigrants facing the threat of deportation. Detained without the support of a public defender system – a feature of US immigration law, immigrants face a complex immigration court that is adversarial and can produce dire consequences including family and community exile, loss of employment, and inevitable violence or even death if deported. This paper chronicles the experiences of former detainees and how they were able to acquire (or not acquire) justice through multiple means while detained. To win their freedom from detention, they engaged in "precarious legal patchworking" where they haphazardly cobbled together legal resources and assistance from multiple sources including pro-bono aid, jailhouse lawyers, and other detainees. This patchworking strategy speaks to the person's legal empowerment, but it also unveils the fragility of this strategy because it could extend the length of detention, complicate or even harm the detainee’s case. The lack of access to representation is a form of legal violence, and stratifying access to representation in this way creates an underclass of people who are systematically denied justice.

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