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October 11, 2023 @ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm CDT

Speaker Series: Kristina Shull

History, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Detention Empire: Reagan's War on Immigrants and the Seeds of Resistance
Kristina Shull
Hybrid: Virtual/In-Person (ABF Offices, 750 N Lake Shore Drive, 4th Floor Chicago, IL)

The early 1980s marked a critical turning point for the rise of modern mass incarceration in the United States. The Mariel Cuban migration of 1980, alongside increasing arrivals of Haitian and Central American asylum-seekers, galvanized new modes of covert warfare in the Reagan administration’s globalized War on Drugs. Using newly available government documents, Shull demonstrates how migrant detention operates as a form of counterinsurgency at the intersections of U.S. war-making and domestic carceral trends. As the Reagan administration developed retaliatory enforcement measures to target a racialized specter of mass migration, it laid the foundations of new forms of carceral and imperial expansion.

Reagan’s war on immigrants also sowed seeds of mass resistance. Drawing on critical refugee studies, community archives, protest artifacts, and oral histories, Detention Empire also shows how migrants resisted state repression at every turn. People in detention and allies on the outside—including legal advocates, Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, and the Central American peace and Sanctuary movements—organized hunger strikes, caravans, and prison uprisings to counter the silencing effects of incarceration and speak truth to U.S. empire. As the United States remains committed to shoring up its borders in an era of unprecedented migration and climate crisis, reckoning with these histories takes on new urgency.

To register, contact Sophie Kofman at skofman@abfn.org


Kristina Shull is an Assistant Professor and Director of Public History at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Her research interests include immigration history, mass incarceration, U.S. foreign relations, social movements, climate migration, the Cold War, and public history.

Shull’s first monograph, Invisible Bodies: Immigration Crisis and Private Prisons Since the Reagan Era, is currently under contract with UNC Press’s Justice, Power, and Politics series. It explores the rise of immigration detention in the United States in the early 1980s as a form of counter-insurgent warfare in Reagan’s Cold War on immigrants.

She also directs a digital humanities project titled “Climate Refugee Stories,” about migration, borders, and the fight for climate justice. This multimedia archive and public education project employs Participatory Action Research methods and is built in collaboration with a global team of migrants and refugees, students, interdisciplinary scholars, artists, and non-profit organizations.

She has a forthcoming article in a special issue of Abolition: A Journal of Insurgent Politics on Abolitionist Feminisms titled, “QTGNC Stories from Detention and Abolitionist Imaginaries, 1980-Present,” and she is also currently conducting research for a second book project titled, Immigration Detention and Histories of Resistance.