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  • Detain and Deport: The Chaotic U.S. Immigration Enforcement Regime by Nancy Hiemstra
  • Brad D. Jokisch
Nancy Hiemstra
Detain and Deport: The Chaotic U.S. Immigration Enforcement Regime.
Athens, Georgia, USA: The University of Georgia Press, 2019. xiii + 184pp. Table, notes, references, maps, and index. $29.95 paper (ISBN 978-0-8203-5463-7); $99.95 cloth (ISBN 978-0-8203-5465-1).

Detaining and deporting suspected unauthorized immigrants has become increasingly common, politically popular, and profitable in the United States. The practice predates Trump’s policies by decades, even though his administration’s worst practices drew heightened attention. This timely book by geographer Nancy Hiemstra offers an insightful and important understanding of the detention/deportation system in the United States. She focuses on the drivers and consequences of the system, asking how it developed and what is accomplished by the increasing reliance on detention and deportation as part of immigration enforcement. Hiemstra uses a transnational ethnography of policy to unearth the hidden truths that undergird the system. Her case study with Ecuadoran migrants and much of the research was conducted in 2008–2009 in Cuenca and surrounding communities.

The methodological approach is central to the author’s theoretical foundation within detention and deportation studies. To avoid “methodological nationalism” and “border-centric” approaches (p. 12), Hiemstra seeks to understand how detention and deportation create linkages across state borders. This is done, in part, by tracking the detention and subsequent deportation of Ecuadorans working in the United States. She shows that deportation does not produce a territorial break—migrant from the destination country—rather, it recreates transnational linkages and generates human tragedy and insecurity in the process. Furthermore, U.S. immigration enforcement efforts have been extended well beyond the U.S.-Mexico border to encourage Latin American countries to deter emigration and to apprehend migrants in route, including at sea by the U.S Coast Guard. This author’s approach is designed to improve the theoretical lens political geographers (and others) use to understand detention and deportation, but also show how the system actually works across borders; detention in New Jersey reverberates in rural Ecuador among the migrants’ loved ones, and even the smugglers and money lenders. Clearly, immigration enforcement is not bound by state borders.

Detaining and deporting suspected unauthorized immigrants has escalated since the 1980s, with each presidential administration. [End Page 195] Under President George W. Bush, 9/11 produced a major increase in securitization, but it was the Obama administration that oversaw the detention and deportation machine that exists today. The author argues that through time three factors have been marshalled to justify detention and deportation—security, racialized notions of who belongs in the U.S., and economic frustrations that are blamed on immigrants. Post 9/11 anxieties combined fear of non-white immigrants with a purported security risk. Paramount to U.S. policy has been creating deterrence; the more miserable and dangerous the experience for unauthorized migrants or asylum—seekers, the less likely unauthorized migration will continue. Under the Obama administration, detention grew so common that dozens of private contractors began housing thousands of detained immigrants, earning large sums of money in the process. This “immigration industrial complex” (p. 59) created an infrastructure and demand for detained immigrants.

Case studies from Hiemstra’s volunteer work in Cuenca with families of detained migrants show that the detention and deportation is more than frustrating, it is chaotic. Chaos is not simply descriptive, it is a critical concept the author uses to characterize the system, one that serves many functions. Finding detained migrants from Ecuador in the U.S. detention system (for Hiemtsra, not family members!) was challenging because of the inconsistencies and incomprehensibility of the system. For detained migrants, the chaos starts with the legal proceedings that are complex, and with no legal counsel, commonly lead to poor outcomes. Migrants are frequently transferred from facility to facility with little notice and for unexplained reasons, further disorienting them, and making them “lost in time and space” (p. 82). It is less important to understand if the chaos is intentional or merely accidental; it is more important to understand what it accomplishes—to perpetuate the industrial migration...