This essay locates the recent wave of deportation raids carried out since 2005 by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in their historical context as a racialized system of social control The deportation terror imposed on immigrant communities by these raids is a crucial technology of the state. In the current historical moment, the word terror has been almost entirely defined by the homeland security state as a threat to the nation. A historical and comparative perspective on the experience of terror at the hands of this and other state formations now becomes particularly crucial.

The central comparison in this essay links the deportations of the early cold war period, 1945–1960, with the current moment, characterized by the detention and deportation of foreign-born people, predominantly men, from the Middle East, North and East Africa, South and Southeast Asia after 9/11, and the immigration raids that have constituted a direct governmental response to the immigrant rights mobilizations of 2006–07. In both periods the mass deportations of primarily Mexican laborers accompany constitutionally questionable detention and deportation of the foreign born for reasons defined by the state as “political.” Many political deportations target community leaders who represent foreign-born workers. These deportations render workers more vulnerable to exploitative work conditions and unconstitutional practices. In turn, the large sweeps focusing on immigrant workers have often been retribution for political organizing. The notion that these larger sweeps are market driven, rather than political, functions to define and divide foreign-born communities.

The deportation of particular foreign-born individuals for reasons of their ideology during the early cold war, or in the case of the “Special Registration” Program implemented in 2002, their birth place or religion, is a component of a racial regime governing entrance and exit. Operative since the creation of the Border Patrol in 1924 and the resulting criminalization of border crossing, this racial regime includes the deportation of foreign-born workers and their families as well as, in some cases, citizens who are members of racialized communities.


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