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Through Iceboxes and Kennels

How Immigration Detention Harms Children and Families

Luis H. Zayas

Publication Date - 07 March 2023

ISBN: 9780197668160

304 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock


Through stories and thoughtful analysis, this book shows how migration and U.S. immigration detention harms the future of immigrant children and their parents.

For decades, the United States has used detention to control immigration. Through Iceboxes and Kennels traces the rise of family migration from Central America and why the U.S. incarcerated and separated thousands of children and parents. Zayas argues that answers are found in U.S. history. The book takes the reader across the licensing of detention centers in Texas as licensed childcare facilities, holding of teenage immigrants in residential treatment centers, and the full scope of the Family Separation Policy of 2018 that unleashed a national outcry. With a storyteller's ability and from sources as varied as history, politics, and psychology, Zayas identifies four stages in Central American migration-pre-migration forces that push people from their homes; mid-migration journeys fraught with hunger, violence, and pain; detention in cold rooms, cages, and jails; and the post-detention period of settlement and adjustment. In chapter after chapter, Zayas tells the stories-sometimes harrowing, always riveting-told to him by children and parents.

Like epic narratives, there are villains and heroes, honesty and betrayal, and moments of abject desperation and of soaring valor. The book shows readers just how damaging detention is to the developing child's brain, body, and mental health. At once alarming and optimistic, Through Iceboxes and Kennels reveals the endurance of parents insistent on bringing their children to safety and security, and the inspiring gallantry of children, parents, and strangers. It is a book for those who want to understand the urgency of immigration reform and the need for humane policies and practices.


  • Explains the increase in asylum-seeking migration from Central America in the past two decades
  • Includes experiences of migration as told by children and parents
  • Describes the psychological and social effects of pre-migration, migration, and post-migration circumstances and their effects on children's development and mental health

About the Author(s)

Luis H. Zayas, PhD is Dean and Professor, and Robert Lee Sutherland Chair in Mental Health and Social Policy, Steve Hicks School of Social Work, University of Texas-Austin. At UT-Austin he also holds appointments as Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Dell Medical School and Affiliated Faculty, Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies. He is currently serving as President of the Society for Social Work Research (SSWR). Zayas has spent decades serving low-income minority families in urban communities and studying their lives and needs. He has been a teacher and researcher in universities and an advocate for the families he serves. His research has been cited nationally and internationally in leading newspapers and electronic media, and he is a frequent guest speaker across the United States, helping audiences understand the plight of immigrant and underprivileged families.


"Luis Zayas captures the stories of immigrant mothers and children in heart-rending detail, while also sharing his own hesitation and humility in the face of unimaginable suffering and stunning courage. In this book, he offers a strategic and thoughtful guide for reimagining a respectful and dignified reception of immigrants on our southern border and in our communities." -- Marsha Griffin, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine

"In Through Iceboxes and Kennels, Luis Zayas provides the public an unparalleled account of the experiences of asylum-seeking Central American families caught up in our immigration enforcement system—their suffering, resilience, and complex inter-generational dynamics. The book documents the lasting harm of our country's immigration policies, and to move beyond temporary outrage at news headlines to a deeper understanding of the challenges we face, as a nation, in treating migrant families with the compassion and respect they deserve." -- Nina Rabin, JD, Director, Immigrant Family Legal Clinic, UCLA School of Law

"Collectively, we must reckon with the brutal treatment of children and families in our immigration system. By artfully weaving together beautiful and tragic stories from people stuck in a labyrinthine system and clinical analysis of trauma, Zayas leaves readers no choice but to reevaluate everything they know about immigration and families. Through Iceboxes and Kennels is for anyone who wants to understand the plight of children and families in our asylum system and beyond." -- Jeremy Slack, PhD, Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Texas, El Paso

"Through Iceboxes and Kennels offers an incisive analysis of the toll immigration enforcement takes. Zayas presents a poignant and compassionate account of asylum-seeking families detained and sometimes separated at the U.S.-Mexico border. He carefully situates the suffering endured before leaving their communities of origin and while in transit to the U.S. in the context of structural factors. A must-read for immigration scholars, advocates, policy makers, students, and mental health professionals." -- Ana Martinez-Donate, PhD, Professor of Community Health and Prevention, Drexel University

"This book tells powerful stories of Central American families undertaking perilous journeys to seek asylum in the U.S. They are stories of trauma and suffering, but also of strength and resilience. It is an essential reading for understanding one of the most urgent human rights challenges of our time." -- Emily Ryo, JD, Professor of Law and Sociology, Gould School of Law, University of Southern California

Table of Contents

    A Note on Names and Terms

    PART I: The State of Affairs

    Chapter 1: The Poet, Heroic Mothers, and Cash Cows
    Chapter 2: Ordeals and Histories of Immigration
    Chapter 3: I Didn't Sign Up for This
    Chapter 4: Detention as Licensed Child Care, Texas-Style
    Chapter 5: Take the Children, Age Doesn't Matter.
    Chapter 6: Hiding Boys in Therapeutic Detention

    PART II: The Human Costs

    Chapter 7: Studying Families, Hearing Their Stories
    Chapter 8: Stages of Central American Immigration
    Chapter 9: Stress, Trauma, and Children's Development
    Chapter 10: I Need to Tell My Story, Too
    Chapter 11: Sleepless Under the Bridge in El Paso
    Chapter 12: A Mother's Self-Doubt, A Child's Hunger
    Chapter 13: Sufrir, Sufrimiento, and Hallucinating the Invisible Killer Girl
    Chapter 14: Four Generations of Mothers and Daughters
    Chapter 15: All That Comes After

    About the Contributors

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