Khalila Blake, book review, The New Deportations Delirium, AmeriQuests 14.1 (2017)

Daniel Kanstroom and M. Brinton Lykes, editors. The New Deportations Delirium – Interdisciplinary Responses. New York: NYU Press, 2015, 271 pp., $47.14

ISBN 978-1-4698-6867-4

O say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave,

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

- The Star Spangled Banner, written by Francis Scott Key

Upon taking office, President Trump made immigration one of his first priorities, and although he has struggled to gain support for some of his more controversial ideas, such as building the border wall between the United States and Mexico, immigration arrests shot up 38% within the first three months of his presidency compared with the same period in 2016. Within the first few months of the this administration, ICE officers arrested 41,318 people, compared with 30,028 people over the same period the previous year. For many, these are just vague statistics that you can read in a New York Times article; however, for my community, in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York, these statistics incite fear and paranoia. Flatbush is home to a large West-Indian immigrant community, some documented and others not. Shortly after the inauguration, I remember seeing loads of social media posts warning Flatbush residents to avoid particular places within the community, which many people frequented daily, because of threats of ICE arrests. While these social media posts were most certainly bogus, I watched people that I know, love, and grew up with, become crippled by fear. Members of my community were afraid to go to work, afraid to shop in the local grocery stores, and even afraid to drop their kids to school because of this mass hysteria. Much of the existing rhetoric on deportation focuses on the federal government formally removing alien from the United States for violations of a number of immigration or criminal laws. The New Deportations Delirium: Interdisciplinary Responses, however, explores the tension between the open immigration ideal and system of exclusion and removal.

         With contributions by some of the leading figures in the field, The New Deportations Delirium investigates deportation through an interdisciplinary lens. The most interesting and compelling component of the work is the diversity in opinions. The authors of the eight chapters come from wide ranging professional backgrounds and disciplines, including psychologists, sociologists, social workers, lawyers, judges, policy advocates and government administrators. The introduction of the book lists a series of questions, regarding both theoretical and applied issues around American deportation policies, including: “Can the United States legitimately claim to be a “nation of immigrants” when its massive deportation machinery continues to negatively affect many millions of people?” and “What are the psychological and social consequences of policies and practices that force hundreds of thousands of migrants living within U.S. borders – many of whom are members of transnational families – into the shadows?” The New Deportations Delirium seeks to wrestle with these questions to examine how deportation, detention, Immigration Courts, and social service agencies work and how they affect real people.

        The first four chapters of the book, captured under the rubric of “The Legal, Administrative and Political Responses”, focuses on the overarching challenges that American immigration policy present, specifically within the context of family. Further, part one also seeks to explore ideas and proposals for reform to improve immigration policy. The second section of the book, “Interdisciplinary Research, Advocacy, and Actions for and with Migrants Affected by Detention and Deportation”, explores the stories of immigrants navigating American immigration policy as well as the people who work with them. The section seeks provide multidisciplinary perspectives, and does a great job of enabling readers to better understand the intricacies of immigration by forcing readers out of the comfort zone of whatever particular discipline the reader is most familiar with.

        The New Deportations Delirium begins with “Unhappy Families: The Failings of Immigration Law for Families That Are Not Alike,” by law professor David Thronson, who is critical of the narrowness of immigration laws, suggesting that the implications thereof is that they often result in family separation, hardship and suffering: “For families that do not met the exacting templates of immigration law, the story is not of family unity but rather of separation and hardship” (33). Thronson’s chapter is a great way to begin this book, because it lays a foundation for readers to understand the counter narrative to what we so often read and hear about deportation. This chapter so clearly paints the picture of separation caused by immigration policy, deportation specifically.

        Chapter two, “Improving Conditions of Confinement for Immigrant Detainees: Guideposts Toward a Civil System of Civil Detention,” by Dora Schririo, the former director of the Office of Detention Policy and Planning for the Department of Homeland Security, sets out the principles needed to improve the practices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and a reform agenda for detention systems. I found Schririo’s discussion of accountability between ICE and detainees especially interesting. She ultimately suggests that ICE take back from the private sector the oversight of detention management activities and assume responsibilities for outcomes by conducting regular assessments and annual evaluations. (p. 81).

        In chapter three, Denise Noonan Slavin and Dana Leigh Marks, both immigration judges, address the question of “Who Should Preside Over Immigration Cases, Where and How?” by exploring tensions immigration that judges face in their dual roles as U.S. government attorneys and judges. They ultimately recommend the creation of an Article I Immigration Court, or the establishment of Immigration Court as an independent agency outside the Department of Justice. While I certainly think separating from the Department of Justice could be interesting, I question the feasibility of this idea, particularly under this Trump administration. Chapter four, “Will New Political Calculations and New Actors Overcome Enforcement Inertia”, co-authored by Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum and long-time activist and community organizer, and Brittney Nystrom and Maurice Belanger, organizers, immigration experts, and former Forum colleagues, explores the current state of immigration law and policy in the United States, and assert that the implementation of a system that works for the greatest number of users should come before the enforcement of new and improved laws: “Reforms to our immigration system must include sufficient legal channels for workers filling open jobs and family members reuniting with lobed ones. Reforms must create a system that works for all – migrants, employers, communities, families, and government alike” (135). This chapter seems to present ideas that simply are not feasible or realistic, because there are very few government systems of any kind that work for all.

        Chapter five, “Legal and Social Work Responses to the Detained and Deported: Interdisciplinary Reflections and Actions” written Jessica Chicco, an immigration attorney, and Elaine Congress, an academic researcher and advocate for immigrants, highlights the importance for lawyers and social workers to consider the goals of collaboration, the potential obstacles that such collaboration is likely to pose and the value added of working together in varying capacities: “Though trained in different professional paths, both immigration lawyers and social workers relate to clients as individuals” (163). I found this chapter to be very impactful, as not only do the authors very clearly articulate the benefits of working across disciplines (as well as the detriments of not doing so), but they also provide a working example of exactly what the authors are seeking to establish. No legal conflict is purely legal, and I agree that interdisciplinary collaboration between lawyers and social workers can be effective.

        Psychologists Kalina Brabeck, Katherine Porterfield, and Maryanne Loughry, are the authors of “Immigrants Facing Detention and Deportation: Psychological and Mental Health Issues, Assessment, and Intervention for Individuals and Families,” which explores the idea that “Mental health professionals may help the legal team and the court understand how trauma can impact memory and result in inconsistent testimonies” (182). This valuable contribution includes discussions of some of the unique characteristics of migrant families, reviews the impact of unauthorized status, detention and deportation on migrants’ mental health and outlines basic principles for mental health assessments and interventions with this population. The authors cross-disciplinary engagement, and employment of personal narratives to highlight the complexities of family and trauma in light of deportation or the threat thereof, was especially compelling.

        “Participatory Action Research with Transnational and Mixed-Status Families: Understanding and Responding to Post-9/11 threats in Guatemala and the United States” is co-authored by the book’s editor, M. Brinton Lykes and her colleagues. It discusses mixed-stratus and transnational families, concluding that they require significant policy reform, including family integration and protection of the vulnerable. The chapter draws on findings from seven years of an ongoing interdisciplinary participatory action research (PAR) with unauthorized Central American migrants and their families. The authors of chapter did a great job of articulating the confliction that parents within mixed-status families experience watching their children thrive in the United States: “I’m here because I want my kids to study and speak English, and not go through life cleaning bathrooms like I did” (209). Ultimately, the authors of this chapter assert interdisciplinary and transnational partnerships offer the potential for understanding the historical context behind the contemporary experiences.  

        The volume concludes with “Unwelcome Returns: The Alienation of the New American Diaspora in Salvadoran Society,” by sociologists Katie Dinegman-Cerda and Ruben G. Rumbaut. Drawing on the lived experience of young people in El Salvador, the authors explore how, within this new American diaspora, Salvadorans are able to negotiate their identities and overcome challenges they face reintegrating into their parents’ country of origin. The authors discussed the complexities of the re-transition into El Salvador that deportees face, particularly as they are treated as undesirable foreign elements. The chapter, however, also highlights ways in which El Salvador can do more to ensure a smoother re-transitioning: “As Ramon, 28, suggested, El Salvador should create a program from different deportees, that might look something like the assistance program provided to refugee populations in the United States”  (245). This chapter was especially interesting, and crucial for this collection, because I think that while deportation is a system that most people are familiar with, they are nonetheless ignorant to its actual proceedings, and furthermore, the chapter explains why deportees are often forgotten once they are deported.

        I began this review with two lines from The Star Spangled Banner because of the inherent contradiction embedded in those lyrics. America is the land of the free and the home of the brave: but for whom? The New Deportations Delirium does an incredible job at highlighting the contradictions within deportation policy as well as proving insightful new perspectives and ideas. The chapters are unique because not only do they seek to inform readers about the realities which deportees and the families of deportees face, but they also place these narratives within the larger American landscape. Given my own personal experiences with deportation, The New Deportations Delirium successfully challenges some of the preexisting notions and debunks many of the myths associated with the system.

Khalila Blake, Vanderbilt Law School