Hartmann on Goodman, 'The Deportation Machine: America's Long History of Expelling Immigrants'

Adam Goodman. The Deportation Machine: America's Long History of Expelling Immigrants. Politics and Society in Modern America Series. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020. Illustrations. 352 pp. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-691-18215-5

Reviewed by Susan M. Hartmann (The Ohio State University)
Published on H-FedHist (April, 2021)
Commissioned by Caryn E. Neumann (Miami University of Ohio Regionals)

Printable Version: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=56182

During the last century, nearly fifty-two million immigrants gained legal status in the United States, yet there have been an even greater number of deportations—more than fifty-six million (some of these representing repeat occurrences for the same individual). Alan Goodman’s superb history explores the origins of this mass expulsion, the official and nonofficial processes of removal, its persistence no matter which political party controlled the government, the businesses that profited from it, the suffering it brought to deportees and their loved ones, and the resistance to it. Based on broad and deep research into official sources in the United States and Mexico—original home to 90 percent of the deportees—as well as local records, newspapers, and oral histories, The Deportation Machine unearths policies and practices that have received scant attention and contributes immeasurably to our understanding of the dark side of immigration policy.

Goodman places deportations into three categories: formal expulsion usually after some kind of court procedure; “voluntary departure” through which officials persuade immigrants to leave without incurring legal charges and without access to due process; and “self-deportation,” where individuals choose to leave, usually in terror of experiencing something worse. He focuses on the so-called voluntary departures, because they constituted by far the most typical form of expulsion, and because self-deportations are impossible to quantify. Beginning with the late nineteenth-century deployment of all three methods against Chinese immigrants, he traces the development of new laws and procedures that created a federal immigration bureaucracy and that increasingly concentrated on Mexican migrants.

Policy and procedures were meant both to expel those already in the United States and to deter further immigration. Publicity campaigns accompanied raids on workplaces and neighborhoods in an effort to encourage voluntary departures, the cheapest and most efficient way to deport, while at the same time terrorizing even legal residents. Most seizures of unauthorized immigrants took place at the border, but raids on immigrant communities occurred throughout the country, contributing to an enormous increase in voluntary departures in the decades between 1965 and 1985.

Goodman also reveals the role of bus companies, airlines, and other private businesses that profited from carrying deportees. In a detailed examination of a boatlift that transported tens of thousands of Mexicans from Port Isabel, Texas, to Veracruz, Mexico, from 1954 to 1956, he describes the human suffering—including deaths—caused by harsh conditions on the ships, justified by regarding the passengers as less than human. The Mexican government cooperated with the boatlift, which was contracted to Mexican carriers, until forced to terminate it after exposure of the cruelty and public outcries.

The book also reveals shifting and sometimes surprising positions on immigration policy. In the 1950s, the American GI Forum, established to advance the rights of Mexican American veterans, supported the expulsion of unauthorized Mexicans through Operation Wetback, while cotton-producing communities in south Texas protested the loss of workers. Labor unions were complicit in campaigns to get rid of Chinese immigrants in the late nineteenth century, but in the 1970s a number of them joined a movement that won important rights for people detained on immigration charges. As the US government increasingly outsourced immigration control in the 1980s and beyond, the Mexican government compromised its responsibility for protecting its nationals and cooperated in deterring Central American migrants.

Goodman’s epilogue recites the harsh policies of the Trump administration, whose roots readers will recognize in the century of expulsions that he has so meticulously laid out. While students and scholars of immigration history will find The Deportation Machine an indispensable and eminently readable source, it also conveys essential knowledge for those seeking a more just and humane approach to those seeking shelter in the United States.

Citation: Susan M. Hartmann. Review of Goodman, Adam, The Deportation Machine: America's Long History of Expelling Immigrants. H-FedHist, H-Net Reviews. April, 2021.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=56182

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