Post by Tanya Golash-Boza, Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Merced. Her most recent book is Deported: Immigrant Policing, Disposable Labor and Global Capitalism. This is the second instalment of the themed series on the Border Criminologies September workshop on Race, Migration and Criminal Justice, offering a summary of the main points of Tanya's presentation. The papers from this workshop will appear in 2017 in a book edited by Mary Bosworth, Alpa Parmar and Yolanda Vázquez and published by Oxford University Press. You can read the storify story of the #RaceMigCJ workshop here.
On a fall day in 2005, Peter was walking down the street in Nashville, Tennessee when a police officer stopped him to question him about a nearby robbery. The officer said Peter fit the description of a tall, thin, black man who had allegedly stolen a women’s purse. The officer searched Peter and then took him to the nearby police station so the victim could identify him. The victim said Peter was not the assailant. The officer, however, was intent on investigating Peter. Having noticed his “foreign” accent, the officer asked Peter where he was from. When Peter told him he was from Jamaica, the officer asked if Peter minded if he called immigration authorities. Since he was a legal permanent resident of the United States and believed he had nothing to hide, Peter agreed. The officer contacted immigration authorities, who in turn asked the police officer to detain Peter, as it turned out he had missed an immigration hearing related to a 1997 charge of possession of stolen property.
Immigration laws in the United States have no explicit race or gender provisions. Whereas people once could be barred from legal entry and citizenship based on their nation of origin (which were effectively racial bans), those laws have been struck down and replaced with racially neutral laws. Whereas immigration laws at one time had provisions that favored men and marginalized women, those provisions no longer exist. The current version of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which constitutes the body of immigration laws in the United States, does not include any provisions that explicitly discriminate based on gender or race. Nevertheless, its most draconian provisions tend to be applied more frequently to non-whites and to men. In the United States, 97 percent of deportees are sent to Latin America or the Caribbean and 90 percent of deportees are men.
These gendered and raced patterns are a consequence of how immigration laws are enforced. Immigration law enforcement is the responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its two enforcement arms: Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In this post, I will not focus on deportations carried out by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), which involve apprehending would-be migrants along the border and preventing them from entering the country. Instead, I will focus on deportations from the interior of the United States – those that involve settled migrants – both legally and illegally present – who live in the United States, and who often work and have families in this country. These deportations are called interior removals and are most often carried out by ICE. The patterns for this group are similar to broader deportation patterns. 94% of interior removals involve men, even though women account for 47% of unauthorized immigrants in the United States. And, 88% of interior removals involve people from just four countries: Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, even though nationals from these countries only make up 66.3% of unauthorized migrants.
The vast majority of these interior removals begin with an encounter with police officers. Police officers have a fair amount of discretion over who they choose to stop for investigative stops, suspected crimes, or traffic violations. For a wide variety of reasons, police officers are more likely to stop and arrest black and Latino men, which in turn leads to higher deportation rates for these groups. Racial and gendered disparities in local policing practices become magnified when police cooperate with immigration law enforcement, due to the possibility of deportation.
One of the most draconian provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act has to do with deportations after aggravated felony convictions, which is the kind of deportation that Peter experienced. Any person convicted of an aggravated felony faces automatic deportation. An aggravated felony is a specific class of criminal convictions and includes a crime of violence, theft or burglary for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year. When a non-citizen is convicted of an aggravated felony, they face automatic deportation, which means an immigration judge does not have the opportunity to weigh equities in the case. Jamaican and Dominican immigrants – who are primarily of African descent – are much more likely to be deported under these provisions than any other group.
Peter, for example, moved to the United States from Jamaica when he was a teenager, in 1989. He was a legal permanent resident and worked in several jobs, ranging from landscaping, the restaurant business, a steel factory, to house painting. In 1997, he ran into problems. He got into an argument with his girlfriend. She was angry, and called the police and said he stole things from her apartment. Peter says she had lent him some money and had asked him to clean her gold jewelry. The total value of the items was US$1800. When his court date came up, she didn’t show up for court, but the state pressed charges anyway. Peter was sentenced to a year in jail. He served part of his sentence, and was let out on parole. Once released, he thought that he could put his past behind him and move forward. It took a while for him to get back on his feet, but, eventually, he was painting houses again and making ends meet until he was arrested and the police decided to check on his immigration case.
When the police officer made the call to immigration authorities, he discovered Peter had a Notice to Appear in immigration court. Peter had never received the Notice and thus had missed his court date. The immigration judge ruled in absentia that his criminal charges rendered him deportable. Eight months after his arrest in Nashville, Peter was deported to Jamaica - the country he had left nearly two decades before. Given the way immigration law enforcement works in the United States, there are millions of deportable people who will never be deported. Just as there are 35 million illegal drug users, the vast majority of whom will never go to prison, there are at least 11 million undocumented immigrants and an unknown additional number of people who have violated the terms of their visa and are thus deportable, the vast majority of whom will never be deported. People from marginalized groups such as Peter are the most likely to be transformed from deportable to deported.
With 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, it is in no one’s interest to deport all of them. The repressive state practices created by immigration and criminal laws are in place not to deport everyone, but to keep marginalized groups subordinate. The creation of deportation laws relied on racialized logics and discourses about black and Latino criminality. A critical race lens helps us to understand that mass deportation has to target racially subjugated groups to be viable. This subordination is also critical to the functioning of the state, particularly the coercive arm of the state.