Deportation: The Origins of U.S. Policy

Deportation: The Origins of U.S. Policy

Deportation: The Origins of U.S. Policy

Deportation: The Origins of U.S. Policy


Before 1882, the U.S. federal government had never formally deported anyone, but that year an act of Congress made Chinese workers the first group of immigrants eligible for deportation. Over the next forty years, lawmakers and judges expanded deportable categories to include prostitutes, anarchists, the sick, and various kinds of criminals. The history of that lengthening list shaped the policy options U.S. citizens continue to live with into the present.

Deportation covers the uncertain beginnings of American deportation policy and recounts the halting and uncoordinated steps that were taken as it emerged from piecemeal actions in Congress and courtrooms across the country to become an established national policy by the 1920s. Usually viewed from within the nation, deportation policy also plays a part in geopolitics; deportees, after all, have to be sent somewhere. Studying deportations out of the United States as well as the deportation of U.S. citizens back to the United States from abroad, Torrie Hester illustrates that U.S. policy makers were part of a global trend that saw officials from nations around the world either revise older immigrant removal policies or create new ones.

A history of immigration policy in the United States and the world, Deportation chronicles the unsystematic emergence of what has become an internationally recognized legal doctrine, the far-reaching impact of which has forever altered what it means to be an immigrant and a citizen.


In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, U.S. officials created a national deportation policy. They were not alone in this endeavor. in the same period, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Britain, and Germany, among others, also either revised existing immigrant removal policies or developed new ones. Their efforts made deportation into an internationally recognized form of removal, which was unique in law, scope, motivation, and significance. the act of deporting individuals thereafter became one of the most far-reaching powers exercised by the United States government. Between 1892, when the U.S. government first started to establish its federal deportation policy, and 2015, the United States deported more than fifty million immigrants, almost 95 percent of them since 1970.

This book examines the power of deportation, the national and international policies created to administer this power, and the changing meaning of deportability—the status of being deportable—during the first, formative decades of the deportation regime.

Before 1882, the U.S. government had never formally deported anyone. That year, in the first of a series of laws, Congress created the power to deport Chinese workers. By 1888, policy makers had enhanced their power to deport all immigrants, and, over the next thirty years, the government expanded restrictions so that, by 1917, deportation provisions variously targeted Chinese workers, anarchists, suspected prostitutes, public charges, and contract laborers, to mention only a few of the categories. Immigration agents carrying out new federal policy deported several hundred or, at the most, a few thousand people each year. They deported fewer people in the first forty years of carrying out deportations than immigration authorities would in any single year after 1970.

In some ways, then, this book covers a time when immigration authorities administered deportation policy quite differently than they would a century later. Nevertheless, the grounds for deportation, the enforcement . . .

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