Deportation power gives the federal government a tool to remove immigrants who enter the United States in violation of immigration law or violate standards of behavior, as outlined in immigration law, after lawful entry into the country. Under U.S. law, deportations are civil proceedings administered by the executive branch of the government. Deportees are generally removed to the country of his or her last legal residence.
By almost any measure, deportation is an enormous federal power. Between 1892 and 2000, the U.S. government used this power to expel more than 40 million immigrants from the country. The federal government first began to build its modern deportation policy with the passage of the
During the early twenty-first century, deportations continued to be based on the basic deportation powers and policies constructed between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, by then, the U.S. government was no longer officially using the term “deportation.” Instead, it processed deportees under two official procedures called “immigrant removals” and “immigrant returns.”
The roots of what would become deportation policy in the United States, however, stretch further back in time. During the colonial period and much of the nineteenth century, European and Euro-American communities expelled vagrants and individuals they thought were unable to support themselves. Residents in towns and villages expelled the migrant poor. There was, however, little distinction made between the nationalities of the poor. Membership in the local community was what mattered. American citizens and immigrants alike could be expelled from an American town if they were not municipal members and became public charges. Some American colonies tried sending expelled criminals or poor immigrants back to England, but it was generally too expensive and inefficient to remove
In 1798, the U.S. Congress passed two laws called the
Recently arrived immigrants taking a break in the open-air detention pen atop the main reception center at Ellis Island while awaiting deportation in 1902.
U.S. deportation policy developed in tandem with immigration exclusions and
Over the next twenty years, Congress wrote immigration laws that gave the federal government the power to deport immigrants from all racial and ethnic heritages–beyond Chinese immigrants. General exclusion laws were passed in 1882 and 1883, but it was not until 1891 that the government synced each excludable category with a deportation provision. By 1903, the list of excludable and deportable immigrants included Chinese workers, contract workers (of all ethnicities),
As the federal government began using its new power to deport, several immigrants challenged their deportations in the courts. Their cases went further than challenging an individual deportation–whether or not the government’s case against one immigrant was fair or warranted–to challenge the entire legitimacy of the government’s new power of deportation. In 1893, the first deportation case reached the U.S. Supreme Court in
In Fong Yue Ting, the Court found that deportation was simply an extension of the government’s power to exclude. The Court wrote that the power to exclude and deport originated from the powers of a sovereign nation and fell within the powers nation-states could use to protect their national security. Relying on the precedent established in
The Court’s decision in Fong Yue Ting also dealt with the validity of the process of deportation under the Geary Act. In a decision that distinguished between punishment and protection, the Court upheld the government’s deportation power. Something that was protective of national sovereignty, the Court reasoned, could not also be a punishment. The Court, therefore, legitimated the administrative and judicial structures of deportation under Chinese exclusion, dismissing claims that the hearings and appeals process violated
Between the passage of the first deportation law in 1882 and 1924, the U.S. government typically deported a few hundred–at most, a few thousand–people each year. In the
A category particularly important during the pre- and post-1924 periods was that of alien radicals. In 1903, Congress first included alien anarchists in the list of inadmissible classes. In immigration laws passed in 1917 and 1919, it expanded the scope of the antiradical provisions. Unsuccessfully, the
In 1965, Congress ended the national origins system, but under the policies that the government built to replace it, deportations continued to increase. In the
Since the 1980’s, one of the largest and most significant categories immigration and customs agents have used to remove immigrants is criminal status. In 2006, for example, the government deported 95,752 immigrants under this category, constituting about 35 percent of all removals. Important laws that expanded the grounds for criminal deportations included the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 and the
In the early twenty-first century, removals and returns continue to operate under the administrative process of deportation and the court precedents established during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Immigrants may hire
Balderrama, Francisco E., and Raymond Rodríguez. Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930’s. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995. Engaging history of the misuse of deportation against both Mexican immigrants and many of their U.S.-born children. Also includes a rich history of repatriates’ lives in Mexico following their removal from the United States. Daniels, Roger. Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants Since 1882. New York: Hill & Wang, 2004. Provides a strong overview of deportation as a part of a broader immigration policy between 1882 and 2004. Kanstroom, Daniel. Deportation Nation: Outsiders in American History. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007. Done by a legal historian, this work provides an overview of deportation as a part of a larger history of forced migrations in the United States. Lee, Erika. At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration During the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003. Provides a rich social and legal history of deportation in a broader study of Chinese exclusion. Lytle-Hernandez, Kelly. “The Crimes and Consequences of Illegal Immigration: A Cross-Border Examination of Operation Wetback, 1943-1954.” Western Historical Quarterly 37 (Winter, 2006): 421-444. Award-winning article that examines the actions of both the United States and Mexican governments in the deportation of more than one million Mexican immigrants. Neuman, Gerald L. Strangers to the Constitution: Immigrants, Borders, and Fundamental Law. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996. Modern scholarly work that provides insight into immigrant removals during the colonial period and the limited deportation power built into the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Ngai, Mae M. Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004. Modern scholarly study that examines immigration exclusions and deportations between 1924 and 1965.
Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798
Chae Chan Ping v. United States
Fong Yue Ting v. United States
Mexican deportations of 1931
Wong Wing v. United States
Zadvydas v. Davis