Author granted license

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



Boston University School of Law




The United States has a long history of devastating immigration enforcement and surveillance. Today, in addition to more than 34,000 people held in immigration detention, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) surveils an astounding 296,000 people under its “Alternatives to Detention” program. The number of people subjected to this surveillance has grown dramatically in the last two decades, from just 1,339 in 2005. ICE’s rapidly expanding Alternatives to Detention program is marked by “digital cages,” consisting of GPS-outfitted ankle shackles and invasive phone and location tracking. Government officials and some immigrant advocates have categorized these digital cages as a humane “reform”; ostensibly an effort to decrease the number of people behind bars. This article challenges that framework, illuminating how digital cages disperse the violence of immigration enforcement and surveillance more broadly, and more insidiously, ensnaring hundreds of thousands more immigrants, families and communities.

This article argues that the increasing digitization of immigration enforcement and surveillance is part of a growing, and expansive, geography of violence. Building upon deportation abolition literature situating immigration detention as a form of violence, this article posits that rather than mitigate violence, digital cages create a “violence of invisibility” that is equally, if not more, dangerous. Digital cages, masquerading as a more palatable version of enforcement and surveillance, create devastating harms that are hidden in plain sight, while duping us into thinking them more humane. This article concludes by arguing that digital cages are a “reformist reform” that merely make more efficient the kind of oppressive and racialized violence that has long informed the United States’ immigration enforcement regime. If we truly seek an end to this violence, this article argues for abolition - not just of detention, but of the digital cages next in line to replace detention.


New draft uploaded on February 6, 2023

Find on SSRN



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.