2021 Brianna Nofil (Columbia University), “Detention Power: Jails, Camps, and the Origins of Immigrant Incarceration, 1900-2002”

In a field that included many superb entries, Nofil’s work was notable for its depth and breadth of research, including work in more than 90 local newspapers, its chronological and geographical range and the moral urgency of its prose.

“Detention Power” looks at the reliance of federal immigration policy on local law enforcement agencies from the early twentieth century onwards, demonstrating the political and human consequences of framing immigration policy as a criminal justice problem. Immigrant detention, Nofil reveals, shaped the political economy of communities on the northern and southern borders alike as they sought federal funds in return for turning local jails into detention facilities. She demonstrates the often-shocking conditions that men, women and children seeking entry to the United States had to endure. Finally, Nofil illuminates the resistance that detention policy long has faced, both in the broader political community and from people confined within the jails themselves.

Nofil, who earned her Ph.D. at Columbia University under the direction of Mae Ngai, is currently Assistant Professor of History at the College of William & Mary.