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Governments have advanced the argument that asylum-seekers may be detained in order to deter other would-­be asylum­-seekers from coming. But in recent litigation in the United States and Israel, this justification for mass detention met with significant resistance from courts. This Essay looks at the way the American and Israeli courts dealt with the proposed deterrence rationale for asylum-seeker detention. It suggests that general deterrence raises three sequential questions:

1. Is deterrence ever legitimate as a stand alone justification for depriving people of liberty?

2. If deterrence is sometimes legitimate, is it valid as a general matter in migration control, or is it limited to certain exceptional circumstances?

3. If deterrence is a legitimate goal, is there any effective proportionality limit on the measures a government may take against asylum­-seekers?

The American and Israeli courts did not answer these questions in the same way, and they did not foreclose all potential future uses of deterrence by their respective governments. But they signaled considerable judicial resistance, which may make it more difficult for governments to justify mass detention in the future.

Publication Citation

51 Texas Int’l L.J. ___ (forthcoming).