Guest post by Nathalie P. Rita. Nathalie is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her dissertation—tentatively titled “No Trespassing Zones: Governing the Mobility of Migrants and Citizens”—she explores the intersections between the criminal justice and immigration enforcement systems, focusing on how both are used to police mobility between and across national boundaries and identities. She also conducts research on the consequences associated with the liminal immigration statuses afforded to migrants from the Pacific region of Micronesia in the US. She is on Twitter @NathaliePaulin4.

Review of Detain and Deport: The Chaotic U.S. Immigration Enforcement Regime, by Nancy Hiemstra (University of Georgia Press, 2019). 

In the summer of 2018, the media widely reported that the Trump Administration separated approximately 700 migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. This policy was part of their larger ‘zero tolerance’ approach that aims to deter unlawful immigration through the adoption of punitive practices. As stories of crying children populated mainstream media outlets, religious and humanitarian groups, governmental officials and others issued statements in opposition to the practice. It was under increased local and international pressure that Donald Trump rescinded the policy via an Executive Order on June 20th, 2018. In the context of the widespread public scrutiny and media frenzy surrounding this specific practice, Nancy Hiemstra’s Detain and Deport (2019) shows how family separation is just one example of the chaos that is both embedded in and produced by the U.S. immigration enforcement system.

In Detain and Deport, Hiemstra explores the internal logic and consequences of the U.S. immigration enforcement system, specifically focusing on immigrant detention and deportation. She situates the adoption of these punitive practices in a global setting, as nation-states throughout the world have adopted increasingly restrictive policies related to immigration since the 1980s. However, she argues that the United States represents an extreme case study in punitiveness, as it deports and detains more immigrants than any other nation-state, deporting approximately 400,000 migrants yearly and detaining at least 34,000 at any moment (p. 1). Thus, she seeks to answer the following questions: How did these practices come to dominate immigration control? What do they look like in practice? And, what are their consequences in the United States and abroad?

To answer these questions, Hiemstra conducts a transnational ethnography of policy that foregrounds the experiences of migrants from Ecuador in the United States. Her study is transnational insofar as it not only focuses on the experiences of migrants caught within the US immigration enforcement system, but it also includes an analysis of how their deportation and detention affect friends and family across international borders. Thus, her analysis challenges the inherent ‘methodological nationalism’ apparent in much research within Migration Studies, as she explores the transnational impacts of U.S. policy.

Hiemstra’s findings question a key assumption guiding many of the punitive policies contemporarily associated with the US immigration enforcement system: deterrence. In fact, a wide range of practices—including the militarization of the US-Mexico border, the deputization of local police officers as immigration law enforcers, the increased usage of deportation and detention, and the Trump Administration’s family separation policy—have all been seemingly adopted under the guise that they will deter future immigrants from partaking in unlawful entry. By focusing on the lived experiences of deportees and their transnational networks, Hiemstra compares the actual policy outcomes of deportation and detention to their stated intent of deterrence.

Overall, Hiemstra finds that punitive immigration enforcement practices do not actually deter migration, as many of her respondents expressed intent to re-migrate even after experiencing the horrors associated with deportation from and detention in the United States. Instead of deterrence, she argues that the increased usage of immigrant deportation and detention have had two other (perhaps unintended or not) consequences on transnational immigrant communities. First, they produce even more insecurities in migrant-sending communities by cutting off access to much needed economic resources—such as remittances—resulting in even more people choosing migration as a survival strategy. Second, deportation and detention fail to sever ties between people across national borders, as many deportees continue to have connections to friends, families, and communities in the US.  It is in the wake of these findings that she reconceptualizes immigrant detention and deportation not as deterrents to migration, but as transnational processes that create and maintain linkages between the US and migrant sending-communities. Such linkages then are newly invaded and mediated by the immigration enforcement system and the nation-states they traverse.

There has been a recent proliferation of scholarship on the consequences associated with punitive immigration enforcement policies. Various scholars have argued that detention and deportation have increased the vulnerability and exploitability of immigrants and their communities.  Others have extended such analyses by exploring how deportation continues to impact the livelihood of deportees even after they are returned to their country of origin. Hiemstra extends this critical scholarship in two key ways. First, her methodological approach expands the unit of analysis from individuals caught within the US immigration enforcement system to the wider transnational communities impacted by such policies. Second, she challenges the notion that deportation and detention disrupt transnational ties by focusing on the ways in which these practices facilitate old and new cross-border connections.

Overall, Hiemstra’s book will be of interest to anyone—including academics, policy makers, and laypeople alike—who are interested in making sense of the seemingly endless chaos produced by the US immigration enforcement system. Even though the book is at times repetitive—certain sections are repeated almost in verbatim throughout the book—her research is extensive and informative. Moreover, her unique conceptual and methodological approach allows for an intriguing analysis of the ways in which US immigration enforcement policies are re-forging social relations between migrants, deportees, and transnational communities. 

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Rita, N. P. (2019) Book Review: Detain and Deport: The Chaotic U.S. Immigration Enforcement Regime. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2019/11/book-review (Accessed [date]