The Homeland Security Act was officially signed by George W. Bush in November 2002, with the purported mission of protecting the United States against terrorism in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Shortly after, the Bush Administration replaced the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) with the Department of Homeland Security. Within the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a law enforcement agency tasked with defending the country against alleged threats resulting from illegal immigration and foreign crime. The agency has deported millions of immigrants, many of whom are incarcerated for extended periods without trial.
Interior Borders presents the locations of ICE detention centers across the United States before and after they were constructed. At first glance, these images may appear to present earlier, “before” photos as “free,” and current ICE facilities as newly emerging forms of subjugation. Upon closer examination, however, far from portraying a state of nature, the “before” images are also portraits of institutional violence, and the “after” images are portraits of historical continuities as well as ruptures.
These landscapes have been recently enclosed or occupied for incarceration and displacement in multiple ways: by stealing land and flouting treaties, displacing Indigenous nations and peoples, and normalizing the extraction of land, and by detaining unauthorized immigrants and displacing them from their homes and families, when no human being is illegal. Together, these historical images show how systemic incarceration is not an aberration but a central feature of regional and national “development.”
In other words, the compositions are maps of longing and belonging: Who is missing from these lands? On whose stolen ancestral homelands, in whose name does ICE incarcerate those who dared cross borders? How should we define who belongs to this land, and whom this land belongs to?