Mexican Migrants and the Rise of the Deportation Regime, 1942-2014

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Latino Studies
Migration Policy
United States
Latin American Languages and Societies
Latin American Studies
United States History
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This dissertation traces the rise of the deportation regime in the United States from 1942 to the present. It reveals that the origins of the regime are inextricably intertwined with the history of Mexican migration. It uses a diverse array of English- and Spanish-language archival sources from the United States and Mexico, more than twenty oral histories, and materials obtained through the Freedom of Information Act to show how deportation has changed—qualitatively and quantitatively—over the last seventy-two years. This dissertation sheds light on deportation’s magnitude, both past and present. It interrogates the inaccurate and inconsistent ways that scholars, journalists, and government agencies have defined deportation and puts forth a definition that incorporates the variety of methods immigration authorities have employed to effect expulsions—from formal deportations and “voluntary” departures to scare tactic-driven publicity campaigns meant to encourage people to “self-deport.” This, in turn, forces us to reassess our understanding of immigration policy and “the immigrant experience” in US history. This dissertation also offers a fine-grained social history of deportation, showing how individuals, communities, and organizations on both sides of the border shaped—and were shaped by—US and Mexican state policies. It argues that we must go beyond the gendered history that paints migrants and deportees as one-dimensional, temporary male laborers, and instead examine deportation’s impact on men, women, and children who belonged to familial, local, national, and transnational networks. An analysis of the political economy of deportation reveals that, in some cases, expulsion resulted not only from negotiations between two states, but also from interpenetrating and corrupt public-private relations. This dissertation shows how deportation and the possibility of being deported became a quotidian part of Mexican migrants’ lives. It shows how immigration raids created ever-present internal borders, and it examines how migrants and activists took to the streets and the courts in response. Finally, it lays bare the connection between the deportation regime’s punitive turn and the growth of the carceral state in recent decades.

Thomas J. Sugrue
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