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Unbuild Walls
Why Immigrant Justice Needs Abolition

“Those who build walls are their own prisoners. I am going to fulfill my proper function in the social organism. I’m going to go unbuild walls.”
—Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed

Drawing from over twenty years of activism on local and national levels, this striking book offers an organizer’s perspective on the intersections of immigrant rights, racial justice, and prison abolition.

In the wake of post-9/11 xenophobia, Obama’s record-level deportations, Trump’s immigration policies, and the 2020 uprisings for racial justice, the US remains entrenched in a circular discourse regarding migrant justice. As organizer Silky Shah argues in Unbuild Walls, we must move beyond building nicer cages or advocating for comprehensive immigration reform. Our only hope for creating a liberated society for all, she insists, is abolition.

Unbuild Walls dives into US immigration policy and its relationship to mass incarceration, from the last forty years up to the present, showing how the prison-industrial complex and immigration enforcement are intertwined systems of repression. Incorporating historical and legal analyses, Shah’s personal experience as an organizer, as well as stories of people, campaigns, organizations, and localities that have resisted detention and deportation, Shah assesses the movement’s strategies, challenges, successes, and shortcomings. Featuring a foreword by Amna A. Akbar, Unbuild Walls is an expansive and radical intervention, bridging the gaps between movements for immigrant rights, racial justice, and prison abolition.

Reviews
  • "Unbuild Walls is a vital intervention! The freedom to move around and the freedom to stay put are central to abolitionist vision. Silky Shah shows, with lively detail, how abolitionist political analysis is both preparation for and guidance through complex, difficult struggles."
    —Ruth Wilson Gilmore, author of Abolition Geography: Essays Towards Liberation

    "Silky Shah has written a crucial history of the nexus between draconian immigration enforcement and the criminal legal system. Rather than framing the cruelties of the Trump administration as the result of a single man’s nativist designs, Shah exposes the decades-long bipartisan project to quickly incarcerate and deport immigrants. Shah avoids the all-too easy claim that these two systems should be disentangled, arguing that this narrative pits immigrants against other marginalized groups—including people affected by the prison-industrial complex—and instead deftly argues for abolition."
    —Gaby Del Valle, cofounder of BORDER/LINES

    "This book is an essential tool to build abolitionist analysis within the migrant justice movement, and to bring people who are already mobilizing for police and prison abolition into the fight for migrant justice. Anyone interested in social change and in the most pressing questions about social movement tactics needs to read this book."
    —Dean Spade, author of Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next)

    "Silky Shah’s excellently crafted book, Unbuild Walls, refreshingly busts through the persistent and predictable debates about border and immigration enforcement. This fast-paced read is well-written, well-researched, often personal and insightful, and is a must for anyone concerned about immigration and connections to struggles for economic and racial justice."
    —Todd Miller, author of Build Bridges, Not Walls: A Journey to a World Without Borders

    "This book is an extraordinary call to action that urges anyone who cares about immigrant justice to embrace abolition. Silky Shah writes from her unique perspective as an organizer and leader in the movement to end immigration detention, sharing the abolitionist lessons she has learned from her journey. Unbuild Walls is a gift to those who are ready to learn from the past and build a better future that uplifts the dignity of all people."
    —Alina Das, author of No Justice in the Shadows: How America Criminalizes Immigrants

    "Unbuild Walls opens our eyes to the ways the criminal punishment and immigration enforcement systems are fully intertwined. Grounded in stories of immigrants impacted by immigrant detention, as well as her own courageous organizing journey fighting against the deportation machine, Silky Shah inspires us to embrace the call for the abolition of mass incarceration and immigrant detention. This book is a must-read for anyone committed to building a democracy where freedom and justice is a reality for all."
    —Cristina Jiménez Moreta, MacArthur Fellow and cofounder of United We Dream