Tanya Golash-Boza is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Merced. She is the author of five books on immigration in the U.S. Her most recent book examines the consequences of mass deportation.
When studying deported immigrants, what parts of the world have you focused your research on and why have you chosen those places?
When I first decided to carry out a study of people who have been deported from the United States, I was interested in the differences between the people deported on criminal grounds and non-criminal grounds. We don't have a lot of information on people who are deported, but we have information on their country of origins and whether or not the people are deported on criminal grounds. So it was what we had access to in terms of data. I looked at the data from the Office of Immigration Statistics, and I was able to discern that there were a lot of variations. Out of the people who are deported to the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, around 75-85% are deported on criminal grounds, in contrast to people deported to Guatemala and Brazil, which was 10-15% using the baseline of 2003. There was a really big difference in how that was the case. So, I decided to look at those four countries out of the top ten countries we send deportees to. We send 90% of deportees to the top ten countries. Within those categories, I looked at the ones that had the highest percentage of those deported on criminal or noncriminal grounds
You argue in you book Deported: Policing Immigrants, Disposable Labor, and Global Capitalism, that deportation is a form of social control. What elements of this control are you referring to?
One thing that I realized in my research is that social control works differently depending on which groups of immigrants you are talking about. There is a generalized fear among immigrants of either themselves being deported or their family members. So that kind of causes them to behave in certain ways that they can avoid detention. They are worried about what the state might do to them. With regard to Dominican and Jamaican deportees, a lot of them were deported after selling drugs or even just being around other people that sold drugs.
I ended up talking to them about how they ended up getting arrested in NY. Most of the Dominicans and Jamaicans were deported after police arrests. The social control in that way works because of their fear of the police in general. Even though they were pretty small infractions. A lot of them would say they'd love to go back to the US and walk the straight and narrow path. However, a lot of them were walking the straight and narrow path, but they internalized it as having to be extra good to avoid being deported.
How did the non-criminal deportation proceedings differ from that of the criminal deportees?
The Dominicans and Jamaicans were almost always deported subsequent to a police arrest. Their main pipeline was the police. The Brazilians, a lot of them were deported in the border areas by Border Patrol agents. A lot of them were also deported by police. What happened was they would come to the US and get caught by the border police. Then they would be released with a deportation order. This mean that they were now in the system and any encounter with law enforcement triggers their detention. For the Brazilians, a lot of times it would just be for driving down the street, they would just be pulled over for a traffic violation and the police officer would check their status on the computer. This has to do with where they were living, many were deported from this place called Marietta, Georgia, which has a high level of cooperation between the police and ICE. Another place is Danbury, Connecticut, which is similar. They were also getting deported by the police, but not because of criminal activity per say, but just coming into contact with the police. Some Brazilians will say they tried not to leave their homes, tried not drive and other extreme methods to avoid the police. With the Guatemalans, it was kind of mixed. Some were deported after police encounters, but they had the highest likelihood of being deported through an actual ICE raid on their home. This is not very common, but they are targeting some groups more than others. This is probably due to the fact that they had previously applied for asylum. If you previously apply for asylum and then you are denied and don't leave, you become a fugitive alien and become a priority for ICE targeted removals.
Why are U.S. official so readily rejecting these asylum seekers when they come on the grounds of seeking safety and asylum in this country?
The Guatemalans that I talked to had mostly come during the civil war in the 1980s-1990s. The US was basically paying for the war and supporting the government in place. If people said they were fleeing that government, it was contradictory to US policy. Cornell Professor Maria Cristina Garcia has found that people were turned away from asylum because they claimed to be fleeing a government that the US was actively supporting. More recently, it is about how asylum is defined, it is extremely stringent criteria. You have to prove you are being persecuted on the basis of your race, religion, gender, and sometimes women who are fleeing domestic violence can claim that they are being persecuted based on their gender. However, it is such a narrow criteria so they cannot just say, “I will be killed” they have to say something like, “I will be killed because of my religion.”
Are they not legally required to get representation?
No, in immigration court you are not. Deportation is technically not punishment, and the rules surrounding immigration court are completely different than the rules surrounding criminal court. So no, they don't get afforded government sponsored representation. A lot of times they don't even get a hearing. If someone has lived here for 25 years and they're convicted of certain classes of crime, which doesn't necessarily mean serious crime, they don't often get a hearing. And it’s not even a judge, but a Department of Justice employee who makes the decision.
By talking to these people that were then deported, did you find that there was lasting physical impacts on the people who were detained or did you find that there were bigger problems?
The biggest problem was that they were permanently exiled from their families. They did not have positive experiences with detention, but that wasn't what they talked about the most. They would talk about it being really cold, not getting any respect, not having access to anything. In prisons you have access to commissaries, you can buy things. They did not have access to that. A lot of them would talk about how they might have a claim and be able to get legalization, but because they were detained, it was like the government was putting pressure on them to just accept the deportation. The deportation proceeding can stretch over years. People may be in detention for a decade, and at the end, people may finally be released from deportation. But a lot of people don't want to spend 8 years detained just waiting. A lot would give up their cases even if they hadn’t finished the appeals process. They didn't have any money to pay for a lawyer and were stuck behind bars. That was their biggest complaint, the detention was like coercion. So they just gave up on their cases and went back to their countries of birth.
Among all of these deportations, do you think there has been any progress made in deportation policies in the last few years or do you expect any prospective reforms in the near future?
It’s really hard to say, it depends very much on the presidential elections. If Trump wins, we could have no hope for any reform whatsoever. It’s unclear. Democrats have not been favorable towards immigrants recently anyway. It's not clear that if Clinton were to be elected if things would improve. The hope is that if Clinton is elected then DACA will be extended. The president does have a lot more power that they have not exercised, but I’m not really sure that Clinton will go that way either.
For more from Golash-Boza, see her recent March 2016 article in The Nation and for more on the the legal underpinnings of immigration law, see Golash-Boza’s book, Due Process Denied, which outlines the mechanisms of deportation.