Aftermath: Deportation Law and the New American Diaspora

Aftermath: Deportation Law and the New American Diaspora

Aftermath: Deportation Law and the New American Diaspora

Aftermath: Deportation Law and the New American Diaspora


Since 1996, when new, harsher deportation laws went into effect, the United States has deported millions of noncitizens back to their countries of origin. While the rights of immigrants-with or without legal status--as well as the appropriate pathway to legal status are the subject of much debate, hardly any attention has been paid to what actually happens to deportees once they "pass beyond our aid." In fact, we have fostered a new diaspora of deportees, many of whom are alone and isolated, with strong ties to their former communities in the United States.

Daniel Kanstroom, author of the authoritative history of deportation, Deportation Nation, turns his attention here to the current deportation system of the United States and especially deportation's aftermath: the actual effects on individuals, families, U.S. communities, and the countries that must process and repatriate ever-increasing numbers of U.S. deportees. Few know that once deportees have been expelled to places like Guatemala, Cambodia, Haiti, and El Salvador, many face severe hardship, persecution and, in extreme instances, even death.

Addressing a wide range of political, social, and legal issues, Kanstroom considers whether our deportation system "works" in any meaningful sense. He also asks a number of under-examined legal and philosophical questions: What is the relationship between the "rule of law" and the border? Where do rights begin and end? Do (or should) deportees ever have a "right to return"? After demonstrating that deportation in the U.S. remains an anachronistic, ad hoc, legally questionable affair, the book concludes with specific reform proposals for a more humane and rational deportation system.


Prisoner, hear the sentence of the Court. The Court decides, subject to
the approval of the President, that you never hear the name of the
United States again.

—Edward Everett Hale (1863)

This book is about how deportation has worked in the United States, a “nation of immigrants.” In one sense, it is a book of stories—many sad, some frustrating or infuriating, but some inspiring—about people who have had to leave one home only to be forcibly removed, often years later, from another. The stories are also about the United States itself, which has undertaken a radical social experiment with massive deportation enforcement. I call this a radical experiment because, although deportation is at least as old as the modern nation-state, we have never before seen an immigration enforcement system of the size, ferocity, and scope that has been built, ironically, in one of history’s most open and immigrantfriendly societies. The experiment has now continued for more than a decade. It is time to consider what it has accomplished and what it has wrought.

Deportation, at first glance, would seem to be mostly about border enforcement. To citizens of affluent nation-states, this generally seems an important and protective function. Borders aim to safeguard culture, identity, social peace, security, and relative wealth. They serve as semi-permeable membranes, enabling governments to control the movements of people, especially workers. Most basically, though, border enforcement seeks to keep various forms of foreign turmoil at bay, as it separates “us”—the citizens—from “them”—the foreigners, the outsiders, the aliens, and from various Hobbesian international realities. Neither globalization . . .

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