Documenting the Human Costs of the U.S. Security-State, Part 2

This post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington D.C.. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on December 3rd. #AmAnth17

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Deborah Boehm
Sarah Horton

Authors Deborah Boehm (Returned) and Sarah Horton (They Leave Their Kidneys in the Fieldsshare their thoughts on Anthropology in Unseen Spaces, sharing thoughts on the fate of Latino immigrants due U.S. policies on policing, detention, and deportation.

Earlier this week, as part of their AAA session on Detained on Trumped-Up Charges: Migrants and the Ascendant U.S. Security-State, they focused on various aspects, including how “[m]assive raids in immigrant neighborhoods and workplaces, the apprehension of DACAmented students—often out of retaliation for their speaking out—and the deportations of long-term residents not previously deemed priorities for ‘removal’ have spread anxiety and panic throughout immigrant communities.”

In Returned: Going and Coming in an Age of Deportation, Deborah Boehm shares the social effects that migrant Latinos undergo when they return to their homeland, either by choice or by force:

In a conversation about my research on deportation, a friend from the city of Zacatecas—an urban Zacatecano—made an observation that has stayed with me as I have witnessed and tried to make sense of migrants’ experiences of return and being returned. My friend remarked, almost in passing, that the migrants I work with are “ciudadanos perdidos, ” or lost citizens, and then he repeated a refrain I have often heard in my research with migrants, typically from migrants themselves: “No son de aquí ni de allá  [They are from neither here nor there].” When I asked why he chose this specific word—lost —to describe his fellow citizens, he replied that return migrants are not fully part of either country, excluded from the United States but not entirely Mexican. “Of course, they are my paisanos  [fellow nationals],” he explained, “but their lives are very different from mine. It is difficult to know what will become of them.”

While this sentiment of being “from neither here nor there” has framed my ongoing research with migrant communities, “lost citizens” is a category of alienation that signals a new global order of injustice. We do not all have equal access to citizenship and membership in particular nations. We do not all have the same chances to move across borders. As the world becomes a more connected place for some, the disconnections, barriers, and spaces of exclusion grow for most. This label “lost citizens,” like the many categories explored throughout the book, is shifting and relational. My friend seemed to understand this, identifying with migrants as members of the nation but also recognizing the deep divide of experience that separates them.

So, are deportees, returnees, and their family members in fact “lost citizens”? In the sense that their membership is compromised in the nations in which they live, yes, this is certainly the case. So I wonder if these migrants are lost citizens or rather those who have suffered loss, including a kind of “lost citizenship” or absence of full membership.They have lost, or never had—sometimes even in those nations they consider home—the full right to citizenship. Those affected by return are lost citizens in this sense, or perhaps lost citizens might be more aptly understood as those who lose in an era of global movement. The age of deportation is marked by social injustice and striking inequality as subjects move and do not move—forcibly or not, despite and because of state power—across national boundaries throughout the world.

Read the previous part of Documenting the Human Costs of the U.S. Security-State. And learn about the physical and psychological stress that U.S. immigration policies inflict on Latino migrants from Sarah Horton’s They Leave Their Kidneys in the Fields.

 


Returned

By Deborah Boehm, author of Returned: Going and Coming in an Age of Deportation

This guest post is published in advance of the American Anthropological Association conference in Denver. Check back every day for new posts through the end of the conference on Sunday, November 22nd.

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Do you consider deportees/returnees and their loved ones to be “lost citizens” as you mention in your afterword? How do the many factors surrounding deportation and transnationalism complicate this classification? 

When I first heard a Mexican national use this term, “ciudadanos perdidos” or “lost citizens,” it was not entirely clear what he meant by it. The label seemed somewhat dismissive of his fellow Mexican citizens. But, as my research about deportation and its effects on communities developed, the notion of “lost citizens” became central and ultimately guided my fieldwork. Profound loss—of home, family, community, belonging, membership, nation, and so much more—defines the experience of deportation, for those who are formally expelled from the United States and for the many more who are connected to them through family and community ties. During previous research about migration and kinship, I repeatedly heard belonging, or not belonging, described as fluid or liminal: people situated themselves as “between here and there” or even “from neither here nor there.” The trope of “lost citizens” echoes this idea of geographic movement linked to ambiguous national membership, but in a way that signals how deportation also constitutes exclusion of a new magnitude.

Deportation creates an absence or void that cannot be denied and is unlikely to ever be entirely remedied. In this sense, the man’s term was an accurate one: deportees are indeed “lost citizens.” Deportation shuts people out of their homeland and also closes the possibility for future lives and imaginings in ways that are much more devastating than the migrations that preceded it. So, “lost citizens” are perhaps best understood as those who experience loss or those who lose precisely because of state action in the early 21st century. In other words, although the category of “lost citizens” emphasizes those who cross borders rather than the institutions that create and fortify them, concrete government policies and politics have directly produced the current global milieu of exclusion. The category of “lost citizens” implies an almost nomadic detachment from place, but for the millions of people affected by deportation, these are forced disconnections that prevent migrants from ever acquiring formal citizenship within countries to which they in fact belong.

In what ways has deportation, chaotic by nature, also become paradoxically ordered? Has this changed since you began your research?

Deportation is characterized by multiple contradictions: policies meant to expel migrants from the nation can strengthen one’s ties to it, a legal process explicitly focused on individuals reaches far beyond the person being deported, government action ostensibly designed to create “security” results in unprecedented insecurity in the lives of millions of people living in the United States. Similarly, despite chaos in every stage of deportation, there is an undeniable order to it, especially given that it is carried out through intentional and orchestrated government action. This kind of structured chaos has intensified since I first started fieldwork. When I began research focused on deportation in 2008, migrants and those of us working with them were hopeful that some form of immigration reform or federal legislation would come to fruition. However, with current legal challenges to DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents), a pledge from the leadership of the U.S. Congress not to consider any form of immigration legislation, and xenophobic actions in communities throughout the country, such reform seems unlikely if not impossible in the foreseeable future. And, as the likelihood of reform has dwindled, the extensive apparatus that supports ongoing deportations continues to grow: the privatization of detention and prison facilities, coordinated efforts between different levels of government and law enforcement, and federal programs such as Operation Streamline and Expedited Removal combine to create mass deportations that are certainly ordered and likely to expand in the years to come.

Is there anything on the subject that you would be interested in studying further? 

I recently started a new project specifically about immigration detention. Although deportees I interviewed often spoke of their memories of detention, much of my research has focused on migrants’ lives before and after federal custody, on both the migrations that brought them to the United States and the effects of the deportations that forced them to leave. Now I intend to study detention itself, and the implications of heightened policing and incarceration of foreign nationals in the United States. A relatively small group of scholars has presented provocative research on this topic, but because of difficulties gaining access, ethnographic work in detention facilities can be very challenging to conduct. But—perhaps precisely because of these barriers to access—ethnographic study seems more urgent than ever. Anthropologists are well positioned to provide critical perspectives on detention and to bear witness to the growing prison industrial complex in our country that increasingly intersects with immigration control.


Deborah Boehm is Associate Professor, Anthropology and Women’s Studies/Gender, Race, and Identity at University of Nevada, Reno, and the author of Intimate Migrations: Gender, Family, and Illegality among Transnational Mexicans.