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Immigrant Policing, Disposable Labor and Global Capitalism

Tanya Maria Golash-Boza

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Immigrant Policing, Disposable Labor and Global Capitalism

Tanya Maria Golash-Boza

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Winner, American Sociological Association Latino/a Section Distinguished Contribution to Research Book Award The United States currently is deporting more people than ever before: 4 million people have been deported since 1997 –twice as many as all people deported prior to 1996. There is a disturbing pattern in the population deported: 97% of deportees are sent to Latin America or the Caribbean, and 88% are men, many of whom were originally detained through the U.S. criminal justice system. Weaving together hard-hitting critique and moving first-person testimonials, Deported tells the intimate stories of people caught in an immigration law enforcement dragnet that serves the aims of global capitalism. Tanya Golash-Boza uses the stories of 147 of these deportees to explore the racialized and gendered dimensions of mass deportation in the United States, showing how this crisis is embedded in economic restructuring, neoliberal reforms, and the disproportionate criminalization of black and Latino men. In the United States, outsourcing creates service sector jobs and more of a need for the unskilled jobs that attract immigrants looking for new opportunities, but it also leads to deindustrialization, decline in urban communities, and, consequently, heavy policing. Many immigrants are exposed to the same racial profiling and policing as native-born blacks and Latinos. Unlike the native-born, though, when immigrants enter the criminal justice system, deportation is often their only way out. Ultimately, Golash-Boza argues that deportation has become a state strategy of social control, both in the United States and in the many countries that receive deportees.

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NYU Press


Growing Up

Yearning for a New Life

What would it take for you to leave your country? Living in the country where you were born comes with tangible and intangible privileges: citizenship, belonging, family ties, and rights, for example. Leaving these rights and privileges behind is no small matter. Yet people leave their countries of birth every day. Today, there are nearly a quarter of a billion international migrants around the world. About half of these migrants are women; about a fifth live in the United States.1
Why do people migrate? People migrate not solely because they are poor, but because they have a better opportunity elsewhere and they have the networks and resources to leave. There are many poor people around the world who will never emigrate because their position in the global economy does not facilitate the possibility for international migration. This fact can be seen by looking at who migrates to the United States: Of the more than one million immigrants who became legal permanent residents in 2009, only 6,718 of them hailed from the five poorest countries in the world.2 Immigrants in the United States do not come from the poorest countries in the world; they come from the countries where the United States has close ties that facilitate and encourage their migration.
Scholars who offer structural theories of migration argue that histories of colonization; economic, political, and historical ties; and contemporary international relations and foreign policy can help us understand migratory patterns around the world (Sassen 1989). Beginning in the 1960s, Asian, Latin American, and Caribbean countries began to be pulled into the global economy and politics through U.S. investors and the involvement of the U.S. military. These linkages eventually translated into mass migration. In 2006, 43 percent of all legal permanent residents and 64 percent of all undocumented migrants came from Mexico, China, India, the Philippines, and Vietnam—all countries that have long-standing and close military, political, and economic ties to the United States (Golash-Boza 2012).3
One poignant example of these ties is that Mexican migrants often come to the United States to work in the same sector that they worked in prior to migration. This trend began with the bracero program and continues today. To meet labor needs during World War II, the U.S. government created the bracero program in 1942, an arrangement to bring in temporary workers from Mexico. Between 1942 and 1964, 4.6 million Mexicans, called braceros (after the Spanish term roughly translated as “farmhands”), came to work in agriculture in the United States. In large part due to criticism over widespread labor violations, the program ended in 1965. However, the linkages created during the bracero program meant that Mexican migration continued. Growers had become dependent on Mexican farm labor, and Mexican households had become dependent on the additional income. Today, several decades after the end of the bracero program, Mexicans continue to make up the bulk of farmworkers in the United States (Massey et al. 2002).
The relationship between transnational ties and international migration is evident in a variety of sectors of the labor market. Sanderson (2014) found that the majority of Mexicans who work in food processing, agriculture, and construction in Mexico also worked in those same sectors after migrating to the United States. This process is called “occupational channeling” and can be explained by the development of a transnational food system spanning all of North America. U.S. companies such as General Mills and Smithfield Foods invested substantial amounts of money into food production in Mexico. This has been ongoing since the early 1980s, and it accelerated with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). As a consequence, U.S.-based firms own over half of the total foreign direct investment (FDI) in Mexico’s food industry (Sanderson 2014). These linkages have, in turn, translated into transnational migration.
Scholars of international migration generally agree that people migrate due to a combination of structural and individual factors. The structural factors include employment opportunities, family reunification, and the flight from persecution. Most people in the world, however, who might wish to migrate, do not. This is where the individual factors come into play—people migrate when they know someone who has migrated, when they know a job is available in a specific place, and when they have the resources to leave their homes. Finally, people migrate to very specific places; people leave one village in Thailand or Mexico to rejoin relatives and friends in a particular neighborhood in San Francisco or Los Angeles (Rumbaut 1994; Massey et al. 2002). In the stories we will read, we will see that most Jamaicans and Dominicans rejoined family members in New York City; Guatemalans often went where other Guatemalans were, as did Brazilians. We also will see the costs and benefits of international migration and how children are often pulled along in their parents’ quests for better lives.
This chapter explores the lives of deportees before they left their countries of origin to shed light on why they left. We will see that, although their migration journeys ended in deportation, they began just as other migrants’ journeys began—with a decision to seek out a better life. We also will learn that the four countries under study here—Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, and Guatemala—all have very close ties with the United States, and each underwent economic and social shifts due to neoliberal policies in the late 20th century. These ties and neoliberal changes work as both push and pull factors that lead migrants to leave their countries. The details of each country are distinct but they all share the commonality that neoliberal reforms accelerated the flows of international migrants.
All four countries implemented neoliberal reforms into their economies at the behest of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These reforms were designed to further integrate these countries into the global economy. These reforms also accelerated emigration, thereby filling a need for labor in the United States (and in Europe, although the European case is not discussed here). Emigration from these countries did not begin with neoliberal reforms. However, these reforms created the conditions that led to larger numbers of emigrants. These emigrants often chose the United States as their destination because of long-standing ties between these countries and the United States—ties created through military intervention, labor recruitment, and foreign direct investment (Golash-Boza 2012).
The migration flows of Jamaicans, Dominicans, Guatemalans, and Brazilians differ in the details of their histories although they share many commonalities. Jamaicans have a long history of emigration to other countries in the Caribbean, the United Kingdom, and, since the 1960s, the United States. Dominicans also began to come to the United States in large numbers in the 1960s. The Jamaicans largely came on employment-based visas in the 1960s, as housecleaners and nurses. The Dominicans came because they were fleeing political turmoil in the 1960s, then overwhelmingly for economic reasons. The migration histories of Guatemala and Brazil are more recent. Guatemalans began to leave their country en masse in the 1980s, due to an ongoing civil war and economic turmoil. Brazilians trickled into the United States in the 1980s and 1990s, when Brazil began to have economic problems. Now that Brazil is experiencing an economic boom, fewer Brazilians are coming to the United States. As I explain further below, the timing of the migration flow is important because of a spate of changes in U.S. immigration law that affected the legal status of immigrants.
Specialists in international migration have long argued that there are connections between the global flow of capital and the movement of people across borders. However, few researchers make this link explicit through the examination of large-scale economic changes alongside individual migration stories. Additionally, insofar as many migration researchers focus on one country such as Mexico or Brazil, it is often difficult to see commonalities across countries. In this chapter, I make linkages between migration and global capitalism explicit through a discussion of several deportees’ migration trajectories. This discussion also renders it clear that U.S. involvement in the internal politics of these countries often served as a catalyst for emigration. This book focuses on the stories of deportees, and insofar as their stories begin with emigration, it is critical for us to explore why they left their homelands in the first place.

Growing Up in Jamaica

Jamaicans who leave their home country for the United States join millions of fellow countrymen who have also left the island: Half of the Jamaican population lives abroad (Thomas 2009). These migration flows are not new. In the 19th century, thousands of Jamaicans emigrated to Central America and other Caribbean islands in search of employment. Jamaicans continued to leave the island throughout the 20th century, although emigration slowed substantially during the Great Depression (Vickerman 1999). At the end of World War II, Jamaicans left for Great Britain by the thousands. This flow subsided in the 1960s when Great Britain passed a series of restrictive immigration laws. Just as emigration to Great Britain subsided, the United States passed amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965 that facilitated Jamaican immigration.
This act, also called the 1965 Hart-Cellar Act, was one of the most significant changes to U.S. immigration law in the 20th century. It put an end to the racially biased quotas set forth in the 1924 Oriental Exclusion Act and the Immigration Act of 1924. In the spirit of the civil rights movement, the 1965 act set a universal quota for every country in the world. Each country could send up to 20,000 qualified immigrants a year, with no racial restrictions. Potential immigrants could qualify for entry based on either family ties to the United States (relatives could petition for their entry) or their skills (employers could request immigrants based on their skills and education). The 1965 act had two main consequences: (1) It increased immigration from Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean, and (2) it increased undocumented immigration from Mexico.
By 2009, there were about 637,000 Jamaican migrants in the United States (Glennie and Chappell 2010), most of them concentrated on the East Coast. Nearly half the Jamaicans in the United States live in New York City; another 28 percent live in south Florida. There are also significant populations in Connecticut, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta (Vickerman 1999). Notably, over half of Jamaican migrants to the United States have been women. The preponderance of women among Jamaican immigrants is a reflection of economic restructuring in the United States and the concomitant growth in traditionally female labor sectors such as service, health care, microelectronics, and garment industries (Kasinitz et al. 2008; Model 2008; Foner 2009; Glennie and Chappell 2010).
Emigration from Jamaica is closely related to the transformation of the economy and its demographic composition over the past 50 years. In 1950, 80 percent of the Jamaican population was rural. By 2010, the majority of Jamaicans (60 percent) lived in urban areas. In the 1950s and 1960s, Jamaica diversified its economy through investments in bauxite, tourism, and manufacturing. The bauxite industry, for example, was established in 1952. By 1976, with the help of foreign investors, Jamaica became the leading exporter of bauxite—a key raw material in the production of aluminum. These investments helped the gross national product (GNP) to grow, and things were going fairly well until soaring oil costs hit in the 1970s. The Jamaican government responded by negotiating new agreements with the bauxite and sugar industries and by facilitating loans to small farmers. These reforms, however, did not help Jamaica pay its growing debt. In 1977, Prime Minister Manley turned to the IMF, which lent money to Jamaica but demanded that Manley implement structural adjustments in return for the loan (Hahamovitch 2011).
Jamaica’s economy continued to worsen, unemployment soared, and the next prime minister, Edward Seaga, borrowed more money from both the IMF and the World Bank. The 1980s brought substantial growth to the Jamaican economy, with development in tourism and exports—both of which generated foreign currency. During the 1980s, most of the state funding in agriculture went to large-scale sugar and banana farmers, not to small-scale farmers who produced goods for local consumption. By the end of the 1980s, only a quarter of Jamaica’s workforce was engaged in agricultural labor, and Jamaica had become dependent on cheap, subsidized foreign imports for most of its food. To take milk as an example, the combination of the elimination of tariffs and the importation of milk from subsidized dairy farms in the United States meant that domestic milk production fell by one-third between 1992 and 2000 in Jamaica, due to consumers opting for cheaper, imported, powdered milk. Many of these out-of-work farmers moved to Kingston, looking for work (Weis 2004; Clarke and Howard 2006).
Structural adjustment had also hit Jamaica’s capital city and largest urban area—Kingston. Employment in manufacturing in Free Trade Zones near Kingston grew a little in the 1980s, but most of these factories closed in the 1990s, as the foreign owners left for other countries that could pay even lower wages for workers. Under global capitalism, companies are free to seek out the lowest wages around the world, whereas workers are often restricted to seeking out opportunities in their countries of birth. In Jamaica, structural adjustment also brought cuts in government employment: More than a quarter of employed workers in Kingston worked for the government in 1977, and government jobs shrank by more than a third by 1989, leaving large numbers of Kingston residents unemployed (Clarke and Howard 2006). Overall unemployment increased from 24 percent in 1974 to 31 percent in 1980. At the same time, inflation caused by devaluation of the currency made it difficult for wage earners to survive (Clarke and Howard 2006).
Emigration provided some relief from these social pressures. The Jamaican government was well aware of this and Prime Minister Manley asked the U.S. government to expand the guestworker program such that more Jamaicans might be able to travel abroad and earn much-needed cash to support their families (Hahamovitch 2011). Although the guestworker program allowed Jamaicans to seek out higher wages in the United States, the program placed severe restrictions on their mobility once in the United States—they were obliged to remain with the employer who had hired them. If the guestworker found a way to escape from the sugarcane fields in the United States, he would become an undocumented immigrant: another vulnerable category of workers.
Economic and social changes in Jamaica have led to massive displacement. Moving to Kingston brought opportunities for some Jamaicans, but many other Jamaicans opted to emigrate to the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Some Jamaicans emigrated directly from the countryside, but many others first moved to Kingston, where they gained the cultural, social, and economic capital necessary to leave the country. This process of two-stage migration is common across the globe; peasants first move to cities where they work in transnational or national industries, and then they emigrate abroad (Sassen 1989; Louie 2001). One reason for this is that peasants often lack the resources to emigrate: In urban areas it is often easier to accumulate the cash and social networks you need to leave your country.
A few of the Jamaican deportees I interviewed traveled to the United States when they were very young. When I asked them about their lives in Jamaica prior to migration, they struggled to remember details. Their lack of knowledge of Jamaica, of course, made their subsequent deportation back there much more difficult.
Those Jamaicans who could tell me why they traveled to the United States spoke of a desire for a better future for themselves and their families. Women who struggled as single mothers in Kingston traveled to the United States to create more opportunity for their children. Men who earned little money working in Jamaica spoke of a desire to earn more money and to provide for their families. Those deportees who traveled to the United States as minors followed their parents who had traveled abroad to provide a better future for them. Hakim is one example. He told me:
My mama tried hard; that’s why she ended up in America. The aspiration of working people is always to try to rise, trying to look for better. Everybody wants to migrate to where they think it is a better life, you know. She had left the island early. She left about 1962 or 1963, then she came back and she left again. I remember when she came back; she took my younger brother.
Hakim’s mother’s migration was part of one of the early waves of Jamaicans leaving the island for New York City. These early migrants made subsequent migrant flows possible, due to family reunification laws in the United States. Hakim’s family decided he should stay in Jamaica when his mother left so that he could complete his schooling at Kingston College—a competitive public high school in Kingston. As they knew well, the education he would receive at Kingston College would be much better than at a public high school in a low-income neighborhood in the United States. When his mother traveled, he stayed behind with his aunt. It was (and still is) typical for Jamaican women to leave their children behind with female relatives until they are settled in the United States (Waters 1999; Pottinger 2005). A moniker, barrel children, has emerged to describe these children because they received barrels full of provisions from their mothers from time to time.
A few years after his mother left, Hakim joined the Rastafarian movement. When Hakim was 12, Haile Selassie, an Ethiopian leader whom Rastafarians believe to be their Messiah, came to Jamaica. After this visit, Hakim became interested in the Rastafarian movement and became a Rastafarian at age 14. By that time, his mother had left Jamaica, and Hakim was living with his aunt in downtown Kingston. I met many Jamaican deportees like Hakim whose mothers had left them behind with relatives while they got settled in the United States. Likely because this practice is fairly common (Waters 1999), the men I met did not express bitterness that their mothers left them with relatives. They viewed it as a necessary step toward their eventual reunification. Hakim, however, would have been happy to remain in Jamaica, where he found a place in the Rastafarian community.
In Kingston, Hakim did well in school until the principal found out Hakim had become a Rastafarian. The principal confiscated his Rastafarian literature and his red, gold, and green hat. Because of this harassment, Hakim left school and went to live in a Rastafarian community outside of Kingston. In the community, Hakim and other Rastafarians were able to survive by making herbal tonics and juices and selling them. They also did some small-scale farming bu...