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The Deportation Regime

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Freedom of movement, the ability to cross borders, to create a new life in an adopted homeland is a goal to which many aspire - and even achieve. Immigrants later discover, however, that these freedoms can be restricted or even reversed, by detention and deportation, hence the label deportspora. In a recently released anthology, The Deportation Regime: Sovereignty, Space and the Freedom of Movement, the editors concede that the deportation regime requires scholars, advocates, and activists - citizens, denizens, and deportees alike - to engage politically and theoretically in renewed ways with questions of freedom.

Editors Nicholas de Genova and Nathalie Peutz, both anthropologists, describe The Deportation Regime as a critical study of deportation and its global ramifications. Why the need for a book of this nature? "Deportation has jealously been protected as a precious arena where the state power's more despotic proclivities may be exercised without inhibition while largely shielded from robust critical scrutiny."

The anthology is skillfully organized into five parts. Part One is the theoretical overview of the deportation regime. Part Two, Sovereignty and Space, examines immigration detention. Part Three, Spaces of Deportability, looks at deportation trends in the Mediterranean, at the U.S.-Mexico borders, Israel, Bahrain, Germany and Switzerland. Part Four, Forced Movement, highlights the plight of 'criminal alien' deportees, with a special focus on Somaliland. Part Five, titled Freedom, is devoted to the anti-deportation movement.

One of the recurring themes in the book is that of 'invisibility'. And one of the locales where individuals often disappear or become invisible is the maze otherwise known as immigration detention. Galina Cornelisse, a contributor to the anthology notes, "Immigration detention is the ultimate example of how national states can freely resort to their hitherto unrestrained territorial powers in order to validate sovereignty's claim to distinguish the inside from the outside.' Detention, in essence, has become the stepping stone in a process aimed at moving an individual from the inside to the outside - or deported.

In 2009, there was a surge in rates of deportation from the United States, up 10 percent over previous years. According to the editors, "deportation is not only a technique by which governments exert their sovereign power over bodies, space, and "the nation"; it has become a mechanism by which governments measure and signal their own effectiveness."

So what's behind the spike in deportation? One of the theories raised in the book is deportation as a form of social regulation. This should come as no surprise. As contributor William Walters points out, "from its inception, U.S. deportation law has been animated by race-based policies, its doctrines honed through the successive efforts to remove or exclude indigenous populations (the 1830 Indian Removal Act), freed slaves (the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act), Chinese Laborers (the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act) and other "racially ineligible" groups (the 1924 Johnson-Reed Immigration Act) from the U.S. body politic.

Arlene M. Roberts is the author of The Faces of Detention and Deportation: A Report on the Forced Repatriation of Immigrants from the English-speaking Caribbean.