ANDREA PLATE WRITES – “Although my research focuses on Mexico, its findings are relevant to understanding the broader phenomenon of people who grew up in the United States but have been deported to countries around the world,” says author Beth C. Caldwell in her compelling, comprehensive and properly chilling new book Deported Americans, just published by Duke University Press.
What is an American? Here lies the heart of the book:
“I am an American at heart and in many other aspects. It’s the paperwork stating that I am an American that I regretfully lack,” says a veteran of the United States Armed Forces.
“I passed my citizenship test and everything,” says Gina, a one-time lawful permanent resident and almost-American who was suddenly deported to Mexico.
“I thought I could take my marriage certificate to the detention center and show them he was my husband, that that would be the end of it,” says Stephanie, about her husband’s deportation by ICE. “…They laughed and told me to come back during visiting hours.”
These are just three of the case studies that author Caldwell, a former public defender, MSW (Master of Social Welfare) from UCLA and current law professor at Southwestern University uses to force a human face onto the brutal blank slate of America’s current deportation policy. With academic precision and literary pluck—a most unusual fusion!—she traces the slash -and -burn tactics of American deportation law, wherein standard constitutional protections generally don’t apply.
Although Caldwell writes about those deported to Mexico, she deftly makes an important, universal point: the roots of modern deportation law stem from America’s troubled history with Chinese immigrants. First came the 1888 Scott Act (and the Chae Chan Ping v. United States case), which barred even those with residency certificates from re-entry if they left to visit their native countries. So began the plenary power doctrine, whereby congressional authority rather than judicial review prevails in immigration matters. Five years later, the Supreme Court expanded the doctrine’s application to deportees. Fast forward to 1996, with passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act, which expanded the definition of “aggravated felony” to include far lesser crimes…leading to deportation.
What was Gina’s crime? Missing a Court appearance (after passing her citizenship test). And the veteran deportee? He cashed a fraudulent check.
Writing from both the heart and the head, Caldwell marshals substantial data and a comprehensive historical narrative to plead her case: What happens when people who have lived in the US nearly all their lives are suddenly sent packing? What—rather, who-— are the casualties resulting from the clash of legally defined “citizenship” with the real-life experiences of those who feel American, act American, and have lived like Americans— but are suddenly yanked back to their country of birth?
With frightening clarity, the author outlines the outcomes: 1) homelessness and/or addiction; 2) life in Mexico, steeped in grief over the loss of loved ones left behind in America, which time and the joy of newly formed families in Mexico do not miraculously heal; and 3) unlawful re-entry to the US.
In his HBO-TV stand-up special “The Wall,” comedian George Lopez jokes about people who tell immigrants to go back to Mexico. Says he: “But I don’t know anyone there!”
Lopez, a mega-star millionaire, of course, can afford to joke. But Deported Americans makes it painfully clear— the deportation diaspora is no laughing matter. Today we fear Mexicans. Long before, the Chinese. Who’s next on America’s hit-list?
Andrea Plate is part-time lecturer at LMU and the author of the impending book MADNESS: IN THE TRENCHES OF AMERICA’S TROUBLED DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, due out in June (Marshall Cavendish International).