Guest post by Carolina Sanchez Boe, postdoctoral researcher at SERR, Department of Culture and Global Studies, Aalborg University. Her research specializes in incarceration, detention and deportation in France and the U.S.. She is also co-founder of the Anthropology of Confinement Network. Carolina is on Twitter @carolinaboe.

Review of The New Deportations Delirium. Interdisciplinary Responses, edited by Daniel Kanstroom and M. Brinton Lykes (New York University Press, 2015).

This edited volume owes its title to Louis Post who witnessed the mass deportations organized by the young J. Edgar Hoover and Mitchell Palmer in 1919-1920 and who characterized the period as a “Deportations Delirium”. In his 2010 seminal work, Deportation Nation, legal scholar Daniel Kanstroom analyzed the effects of the “Palmer Raids” and other periods in U.S. history that have been marked by hightened numbers of deportations, severe violations of rights and attempts by civil libertarians to organize against the government’s abuse of power. In this volume, which Kanstroom has co-edited with psychologist M. Brinton Lykes, the editors rightly state that “if 1920 warranted the epithet of delirium, the years since 1997 have been at least that, if not an extended terrifying nightmare for many noncitizens and their families” (p. 5).

The contributions to this book collectively show the dramatic effects of enforcement policies and related practices of deportation on individual deportees, detainees, and their families within and outside of the U.S. The volume opens with a foreword by Ecuadorean film-maker Luis Argueta, who takes us to Guatemala where U.S. citizen children have been deported with their parents and live in extreme poverty, with limited access to education and healthcare, subsisting on deficient diets: “I have seen several of these children age over these past few years, but they are not growing. They are now about one-third the size that they would be had they remained in the United States.” (xx). Argueta’s foreword points to the high levels of structural violence in countries of emigration that generate migration in the first place and to the effects on immigration enforcement in the U.S. for non-citizens and citizens alike. Today, as many as 4.5 million U.S. citizen children have undocumented parents and risk to be either separated from or deported with them (p. 169, 193). Along with several other chapters in the volume, Argueta’s contribution reminds us that besides the dramatic effects for non-citizens, deportation policies also de facto take part in producing second class U.S. citizens who do not, in practise, hold the same rights as citizen children whose parents are also citizens.

Part 1 offers four chapters, each bringing legal, administrative and policy responses and suggestions for reforming U.S. immigration laws and enforcement practises. Judges Denise Noonan Slavin and Dana Leigh Marks describe a court system which is “overburdened and overwhelmed” (p. 90), and the dual role of immigration judges as U.S. government “attorneys” and “judges” (p.109). In doing so, the authors argue convincingly for the establishment of an Immigration Court as an independent agency outside of the Department of Homeland Security. Professor of law and legal practitioner David B. Thronson analyzes the intersections of family and immigration law with a focus on ‘imperfect families’, i.e. those who do not entirely live up to the narrow requirements of immigration law. Dora B. Schriro, the first Director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of Detention Policy and Planning, draws on her experience to offer concrete avenues on how to improve conditions of confinement for immigrant detainees so that civil detention might one day become “civil” within ICE, which she characterizes as “the country’s largest system of incarceration” (p. 73). Though the book went into press before the election of President Trump, the contribution by policy advocates Ali Noorani, Brittney Nystrom and Maurice Bellanger offers policy arguments that have not lost relevance in their call to turn ressources away from enforcement and into immigration reform.

The four chapters of Part 2 direct the focus towards advocacy and practical aspects of interdisciplinary endeavors aiming at assisting detainees and deportees. Jessica Chicco and Elaine P. Congress offer inspiring insights into the benefits and challenges presented by interdisciplinary collaborations between social workers and lawyers. While acknowledging the creative and resourceful ways in which migrants can adapt to the detrimental impacts of immigration policies and practices, the contribution by Kalina M. Brabeck, Katherine Porterfield, and Maryanne Loughry investigates the mental health consequences of immigration enforcement for detainees and deportees and for their families. In doing so they stress the limits of individually based solutions to socially and legally rooted problems. M. Brinton Lykes, Erin Sibley, Kalina M. Brabeck, Cristina Hunter and Yliana Johansen-Méndez, draw on seven years of ongoing interdisciplinary participatory action research with mixed status transnational families, on both sides of the border, and underline the historical roots of U.S. involvement in the armed conflicts in Central America, which generate migration. The last chapter by Katie Dingeman-Cerda and Rubén G. Rumbaut also moves beyond U.S. borders to El Salvador - another site of U.S. interventions - where deportees find creative ways to manœuvre through Salvadoran society, a place where they are as unwanted as in the country where they grew up - the U.S..

Overall, the volume provides important insights into the experiences of administrative and legal professionals at different levels of the enforcement system. Indeed, one strength of this volume is the diversity of backgrounds and experiences of its contributors. Whether the chapters draw on the experiences of social workers, sociologists, psychologists, community activists, film-makers, lawyers, government administrators, or judges, they show that many practitioners working within the enforcement system are also involved in advocacy and actions for, and with, migrants and citizens affected by detention and deportation. As such, many contributions also provide avenues for interdisciplinary action and reform of law and legal practise that may inspire practitioners in the U.S. and beyond. Several chapters further provide fascinating insights into the motivations and working conditions of both street-level and high-ranking bureaucrats who are critical of the intended and unintended consequences of the deportation system, which they too try to reform from the inside. This book will be of interest not just to researchers working on questions related to border control, migration, and deservedness to membership but also to those interested in bureaucracies and the state. It is a book to be read by academics, pratitioners and members of civil society, as it offers substantial insights into the consequences of the contemporary and ongoing deportation delirium for non-citizens and U.S. society at large.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)

Boe, C. S. (2018) Book Review: The New Deportations Delirium. Interdisciplinary Responses. Available at: (Accessed [date]).