Post by Luke de Noronha, a DPhil student in Anthropology at the University of Oxford. His doctoral research examines the deportation of ex-offenders from the UK to Jamaica, exploring the lives of deportees in Jamaica as well as their friends and families who remain in the UK. Luke is on Twitter @LukeEdeNoronha.

Review of Deported: Immigrant Policing, Disposable Labor and Global Capitalism by Tanya Golash-Boza (NYU Press, 2015)

In Deported: Immigrant Policing, Disposable Labor and Global Capitalism, Tanya Golash-Boza questions why ‘mass deportation’ has emerged in the United States in recent years:

By the spring of 2014, there had been two million removals under the Obama administration―more in just over five years than any previous administration and more than the sum total of all documented removals prior to 1997. (p. viii)

She argues that the ‘mass deportation of men of color is part of the neoliberal cycle of global capitalism.’ But what exactly does she mean by this? Neoliberalism is one of those buzz words we hear all the time, but I’m not always confident I could define it very well. Fortunately, this book helped me work through the concept and reminded me of the strength of arguments that situate immigration controls firmly within analysis of political economy.

To understand why the US is deporting so many people each year―with a particular spike in deportations of those already resident in the US (i.e., interior removals rather than the removal of border-crossers)―we have to situate these policies in relation to structural changes in labour markets in the US, as well as in countries of origin. Mass deportation is one means of controlling surplus labour: of disposing of those migrants who are no longer useful. These might be undocumented labourers. They might also be legal permanent residents who moved as children―the so-called 1.5 generation―and who are deported following a criminal conviction.

Max Frisch famously said of the guest-worker system in Germany: ‘We asked for workers. We got people instead.’ Mass deportation provides a solution to this problem, by denying the humanity of noncitizens and rendering them nothing more than disposable workers. Mass deportation also keeps immigrant labour compliant, reminding other noncitizens that they must accept their lot―pitiful wages and a lack of labour rights―if they want to elude the immense coercive power of the state. The spike in deportations following the global economic crisis occurred precisely because there has been an increase in surplus labour and because, in the context of growing insecurity, immigrants are being scapegoated.

Thinking about cycles of global capitalism helps us map the trajectories of those who end up deported (and vice versa). Firstly, neoliberalism helps explain migration trajectories and patterns of ‘incorporation’―(i.e., what people do). Secondly, neoliberalism explains the US government’s means of controlling marginalised noncitizens, in terms of the phenomenal resource-allocation to policing, detention, and deportation (i.e., what the state does).

What follows may be a rather flattened account of these processes, but it traces Golash-Boza’s core argument. Migrants often move because of the transformation of labour markets in their home countries. When in the US, these families often remain poor because of neoliberal reforms in the US, which have seen joblessness, rising inequality, and the retrenchment of social welfare, most markedly in deindustrialised urban areas. Many noncitizens remain undocumented because of US policies which seek to control their labour and render them compliant through immigration control, as argued by De Genova . Other noncitizens might have regular status, but engage in criminal activities as an alternative labour market strategy where formal employment proves elusive. However, it is important to note that many deportees are only guilty of minor offences. Golash-Boza interrogates the category of ‘the criminal,’ showing that avoiding the police can be difficult in the context of heavy (racist) policing and the war on drugs.  In essence, the trajectories of noncitizens are fundamentally related to the shape of the US labour market―both in its desire for docile undocumented labour and in the lack of formal employment options for poor men of colour in deindustrialised urban space.

We see that many noncitizens are marginalised―in multiple ways―because of neoliberal shifts in global capitalism. But then what does their actual, physical expulsion have to do with neoliberalism? The extraordinary forms of policing in the US are made palatable, despite their expense, because they target men of colour. This massive coercive power is selectively enforced.

When we think about ‘criminal deportees,’ their exile is an extension of the warehousing and ‘invisibilisation’ that mass incarceration represents. Mass incarceration is about surplus labour, but it involves destroying millions of Black and Latino lives, as a means of allaying the fears of White Americans perceiving increased insecurity. In this way, mass deportation responds to the same fears as mass incarceration. It is similarly racialised and gendered, and similarly driven by neoliberal insecurities.

I was particularly impressed by Golash-Boza’s marriage of analysis of mass incarceration, racist policing, and the war on drugs along with an interrogation of immigration controls. That is, she connects the walls and cages so defining of the American nightmare, and in so doing suggests that alternatives to mass deportation require a full reckoning with growing inequality, mass incarceration, and racism. This approach combats the tendency to view immigrants and the native poor as competitors for limited resources, instead viewing them both as victims of neoliberalism and, in many cases, racism.

In forcefully analysing mass deportation, racism, and neoliberalism―in re-centring the state, which I think the analysis of deportation demands―Deported is a truly radical piece of social research.

Golash-Boza uses vignettes skilfully in the text, allowing for a kind of peopling of criminal and immigration policies. Throughout the book, she explores the many facets of deportation in relation to political economy, law, and the academic literature, but ultimately illustrates her arguments through the narratives of her respondents. For me, this is what lends the book its clarity and clout; it’s an example of the sociological imagination par excellence: the connecting of private troubles to public issues. The book is tight, compact with analysis of law and state practices, and yet it remains peopled―the characters come through and humanise the broader analytical project.

In choosing to speak with deportees in four countries (Jamaica, Guatemala, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic), we get a sense for the diversity of deportation stories.

The book is structured chronologically, moving from decisions to emigrate to border crossing, becoming American, criminal conviction (in some cases), getting caught by police and border guards, spending time behind bars (in detention centres and prisons), and then being back in the country of citizenship. The last chapter, ‘Back Home,’ in particular, is full of fascinating empirical material. This chapter really captures the profound consequences of deportation for those exiled. Deportees often return to poverty and isolation, facing gendered stigma and the immediate threat of violence. As I have argued elsewhere, deportation can be a death sentence for all sorts of reasons (see also here). Although each deportation is lived differently due to varying personal resources, connections, and the wider context in home countries, all deportees face emotional hardship and must find ways to survive in their new surroundings.

I was especially struck by Golash-Boza’s description of the deportees employed in international call centres in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic, as it captures the book’s core argument with striking irony, poetry, and tragedy:

Guatemalans are deported from the United States back to their country of origin. One of the strategies used to deport people is to raid places of employment, and one of the rallying cries for increasing deportations is that “they take our jobs!” However, deportees in Guatemala often find work at U.S.-based companies such as Citibank or Sears, answering phone calls from U.S. customers. Of course, they are paid a fraction of what they would be paid to do the same work in the United States. (p. 247)

The employment of deportees in call centres―valued because of their ‘Americanness’―is one of those perfect ironies that tells us so much, revealing some of the contradictions in ‘mass deportation’ for those who live it, and yet highlighting the fact that it works, somehow, as one means of controlling and disciplining mobile labour and racialised bodies.

Deported is a powerful, compact, and very readable book that should interest students and scholars in many fields―political science, sociology, anthropology, criminology, law, migration studies, etc. This text is by no means above the reach of undergraduate students; the question is whether deportation is on the syllabus. Perhaps Golash-Boza’s most important contribution to the literature is in making such a cogent case that it should be.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

de Norohna, L. (2016) Book Review: Deported: Immigrant Policing, Disposable Labor and Global Capitalism. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2016/04/book-review (Accessed [date]).