A new approach to deportation
Washingtonians are surrounded by the vast enforcement infrastructure of current U.S. immigration policy:
A stone’s throw west of the Puyallup River in Tacoma, Washington, one of the West Coast’s largest immigration detention centers holds 1,650 people on any given day. Just south of downtown Seattle, King County International Airport made national headlines by halting Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation flights this spring — just as UW researchers revealed 34,000 people were deported through the transportation hub in the past decade.
And for thousands of the state’s migrants — undocumented or not — the threat of deportation remains a constant dark cloud hanging overhead.
In her latest scholarly paper, forthcoming with the UCLA Law Review, Angélica Cházaro, University of Washington Assistant Professor of Law, takes aim at key premises of U.S. immigration policy and challenges Americans to set sights on a remarkably different approach to immigration — one that abolishes deportation as an enforcement practice.
“There is an opportunity during the Trump era, which has taken attacks on immigrants to new extremes, to explore what it might look like to actually stop these attacks altogether rather than managing the violence of deportation, which has traditionally been the approach,” Cházaro said.
“We’ve come to accept as common sense that deportation is a necessary feature of immigration policy, leaving many of us in the legal community debating in what instances and against whom does deportation become a disproportionate and illegitimate act of harm and violence. But what if we didn’t have to fight these fights and instead approached immigration in a way that didn’t require deportation as a penalty?”
The paper, “The End of Deportation,” tackles what Cházaro outlines as two major pillars supporting the view for the necessity of deportation — the beliefs that deportation is needed to maintain social control over noncitizen populations admitted to the country and to maintain U.S. borders.
“What if we were able to approach each other in ways that didn’t require us to cage people to deal with our social problems?”— Angélica Cházaro
Cházaro points out that justifying deportation through a lens of social and border control has limitations and exemplifies discomforting patterns from American history. She argues that the forms of racism that powered Asian exclusion laws in the late 19th and early 20th century, as well as the growth of mass incarceration in the past 40 years, continue to resonate in policies built on the idea of immigrants as inherently "criminal."
One central premise to Cházaro’s approach is simple: Deportation in and of itself is violent. She says that on its own, splitting up families and communities open deep wounds, and the cases of physical abuses in detention centers and beyond only adds to the violence.
The Trump Administration’s family separation policy has brought particular attention to controversial actions taken in the enforcement of federal immigration policy.
“Despite the fact that during the Obama Administration we saw more deportations than under any previous presidency, there was still this idea that you could have a ‘fair’ deportation or ‘humane’ detention — even while ICE agents on the ground were still engaging in abuses,” Cházaro said. “With the Trump Administration, we see a match between the actions taken by agents on the ground and the rhetoric coming from the top.”
“In many ways, it’s been an unmasking of what was already happening.”
So, what would deportation abolition actually look like? Cházaro said that this is an approach rather than just an endpoint.
Measures like abolishing gang databases, amending laws to end criminal liability for border crossing and engaging in efforts like those which resulted in King County Executive Airport’s stoppage of ICE flights — Cházaro said these are the kinds of reforms that can change lives today as leaders in the United States change their approach to immigration policy.
“It’s similar to the prison abolition efforts in that people tend to dismiss the idea out of hand when they’ve never heard about it,” Cházaro said.
“But when you think about it differently — what if we were able to approach each other in ways that didn’t require us to cage people to deal with our social problems? — it can make all the difference, and I think universities have a very unique role to play in being able to both gather information and be thought-leaders on alternatives.”