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Deportation Nation

After Adam Goodman (Univ. of Illinois at Chicago) finished his bachelor’s degree, he spent five years guiding students from underrepresented populations through the college admissions process, as well as teaching high school history on the United States–Mexico border, before starting a graduate program in history.

Once there, Goodman thought he might “pursue questions related to social policy and educational inequality, which,” as he told Perspectives, “I had studied and worked on in the past. But I became more and more drawn to immigration history and policy.” His work as a college recruiter and high school teacher meant seeing, up close, how immigration policies affected people’s lives on a daily basis and led him to the subject of his first book, The Deportation Machine: America’s Long History of Expelling Immigrants (Princeton Univ. Press). 

In it, Goodman traces the long history of expulsion and, as he writes, “exposes the various ways immigration authorities have forced, coerced, and scared people into leaving the United States from the late nineteenth century to the present.” The groundwork for the modern deportation machine came out of the anti-Chinese campaigns of the late 19th century, when the Gold Rush and transcontinental railroad increased demand for cheap labor. As early as 1830, writes Goodman, the popular press reflected anxieties about this new influx of immigrants being an unassimilable existential threat to white America. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 allowed the federal government to deport “any Chinese person found unlawfully within the United States,” and the 1885 Foran Act prohibited, as Goodman phrases it, “the importation of ‘alien contract labor,’ irrespective of country of origin.” Following this formal governmental intervention, many communities— particularly in the West—began informal “Chinese expulsion and self-deportation campaigns, relying on a combination of force and coercion.” Though Asian immigrants were not the only ethnic group targeted by American nativist movements of the 19th century, the concerted efforts to force them out, by both public officials and private citizens, are a recognizable starting point for what Goodman identifies as the three primary mechanisms for expelling immigrants from the US: formal deportations, voluntary departures, and self-deportation campaigns.

Formal deportations are the most visible. They make the news and also comprise the bulk of scholarly research on this topic. However, as Goodman writes, “more than 90 percent of all expulsions throughout US history” have been through the euphemistically named “voluntary departure” and the equally euphemistic “self-deportation.” Voluntary departures result when immigration officials coerce arrested immigrants to leave the country before the process of a formal deportation trial. According to Goodman, voluntary departure “has inextricable connections to the history of large-scale Mexican migration to the United States” after the Mexican-American War of 1846–48 and especially after the 1907 Gentleman’s Agreement between the US and Japan, which “put an end to significant labor migration from Asia.” Mexican and, later, South American labor became an often-exploited fixture in the US market. As labor rights movements gained prominence, one popular way to keep workers from unionizing was to have protesters or pro-union workers arrested, at which point immigration officials would convince them to leave the US rather than go to prison or to trial.

Read entire article at AHA Perspectives on History