Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Criminal Justice


Diana R. Gordon

Committee Members

Monica W. Varsanyi

Hung-En Sung

Subject Categories

Criminology | Human Geography | Immigration Law | Inequality and Stratification | Political Economy | Politics and Social Change | Public Policy | Race and Ethnicity


immigration enforcement, political economy, punishment, neoliberalism, migration


The contemporary neoliberal economic order plays a significant role in American social organization and policy-making. Most importantly, neoliberal ideology drives the creation and imposition of markets in public goods and services and the valorization of free market ideology in cultural life. The neoliberal ‘project of inequality’ is in turn delimited and upheld by an authoritarian system of punishment built around mass incarceration, surveillance, and an unprecedented level of social control directed at the lowest strata of American society – a group that includes both the urban underclass, and unauthorized immigrants.

This study lays out the theory of the punishment marketplace: a conceptualization of the circuits of American punishment as they both enable the neoliberal project of inequality, and are themselves subject to neoliberal market colonization. The theory attempts to account for the neoliberal rescaling of power and authority from an increasingly weak federal government upward to global, and downward to local, centers of political power. Focusing on the latter, the punishment marketplace defines local government criminal justice policy activism as punishment entrepreneurship: the entry of local political-economic elites into market competition for capitalized benefits – an accumulative approach to direct fiscal gain, political hegemony, security, and other forms of capitalized power through systems of punishment directed at members of the underclass.

The devolution of federal authority in immigration control has opened up local immigration enforcement entrepreneurship as a manifestation of punishment entrepreneurship, with unauthorized and other deportable immigrants as its object. The potential benefits available to local political-economic elites through enforcement entrepreneurship are distinct, as unauthorized and other deportable immigrants form a social stratum and play an economic role distinct from that of the urban underclass. Like the punishment marketplace, however, punitive immigration control reinforces America’s racially-structured social relations by obscuring the diminishing returns to working class whites of the neoliberal globalization project.

This study lays out an empirical test of punitive immigration control theory in the form of a 50-state analysis. Using annual data from the years 2008-2012, factor analysis is utilized to produce measures of market scale, punitiveness, and economic anxiety; the association of these factors with a composite measure of enforcement entrepreneurship is then tested, using both ranked bivariate measures and standard OLS regression, in both annual cross-sectional and multi-year longitudinal models.

The results of this analysis are broadly supportive of the punishment marketplace/punishment entrepreneurship theory operating within the context of American immigration control, and suggest that the pursuit of immigration enforcement entrepreneurship is dependent on native-born perceptions of the scale of unauthorized immigrant participation in labor markets and civic life. All three of the independent factors show consistent statistically significant associations with enforcement entrepreneurship across distinct models. This range of results yields the conclusions that (1) the punishment marketplace is a viable interpretation of local approaches to immigration control in a neoliberal, weak federalist context; (2) the mechanisms involved encompass broad and overlapping socio-cultural and political economic practices, policies, and attitudes; (3) certain of these mechanisms remain largely consistent over time and are slow to change, while others may be subject to extreme changes from one annual measure to the next; and (4) the punishment marketplace operates at a level relative to the weakness of the federal government, and has the potential to be drastically reduced, or even eliminated, through strong federal action.