The New Abolitionism: The Struggle to End Deportation

Immigration Rally

Activists march to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in downtown Chicago during an action to “Shut Down ICE.” In response to the action, ICE canceled a “public dialogue” about plans to build a new detention camp in Crete, Illinois. Credit: No Name Collective.

Just as Americans horrified by slavery fought first for the amelioration of its harshest cruelties before realizing that the only safeguard for slaves and their own consciences was the abolition of property rights over other people altogether, the travails of deportation will cease only with its abolition, and not by any piecemeal reforms.

There are more differences than similarities between the experiences of African slaves brought to or born in the Americas and those of twenty-first century residents without certain legal documents. The institution of slavery is unparalleled for its combined extremes of harsh, often deadly violence and daily, grinding exploitation. And the choices available to the vast majority of those crossing boundaries, albeit constrained by economic and political circumstances beyond their control, differ in kind from the choices that were available to those brought in chains and kept captive by whips and guns. But both slavery and deportations are rooted in the same nativist impulses of the nation-state—impulses conducive to the dehumanization and subjugation of foreigners. The political movements responding to these blatant injustices also share important traits.

The struggle against deportations responds to scenes appearing far too regularly in our country’s newspapers: the deportation of Emily Ruiz, a four-year-old U.S. citizen, who was sent to Guatemala with her grandfather after guards at JFK said his immigration records betrayed a minor, decades-old infraction; the deportation of Jakadrian Turner, a fourteen-year-old African American girl from Dallas who found herself in a mass removal hearing in a deportation court in Houston and—thinking she was going to be sent to Columbus, Ohio—agreed to be deported to Columbia; or the detention of Maria Luis, a mother kidnapped from her workplace, shackled, held in a deportation jail, and sent to a deportation court without an attorney or someone to translate from her native Mayan dialect. Without a translator, Luis was unable to explain that she had two young, U.S.-born children; as a result, they were among the thousands of children placed in state custody following their parents’ detention, according to the Applied Research Council.

Then there are the thousands of Alabama residents who, on the day after the legislature passed a bill requiring scrutiny of elementary school records, pulled their children out of classes and fled their homes and jobs. From Illinois to North Carolina, federal agents have monitored the parking lots of churches known to have Latino members. Deportation officers took a Minnesota resident born in Nigeria to a bank, forced her to withdraw $1,200 and then pocketed the cash themselves, along with her jewelry before shipping her out of the country on an illegal expedited removal order, ignoring her pleas about being married to a U.S. citizen and her pending immigration hearing.

The list of injustices goes on: Minors have been deported from Chicago after being coerced to sign removal orders without attorneys or hearings before immigration judges. U.S. citizens and others with a legal right to residency have been locked up for years as they prove their claims. When a deportation jail near Los Angeles closed down, its Immigration and Customs Enforcement moved the people waiting for their immigration hearings to Victorville, aka the Middle-of-Nowhere, the sort of prison-industrial city where the U.S. government is increasingly concentrating its new deportation facilities. At the same time, deportation officials and government attorneys are lying on deportation forms and in deportation courts, conspirators to the crime of kidnapping and other violations far more heinous than the administrative infractions with which they are charging the U.S. residents in their custody. Most of those locked up by deportation authorities have longstanding ties to this country, this being the incentive for them to remain in captivity awaiting a hearing that may be postponed indefinitely.

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