Deported Americans: Life After Deportation to Mexico
By Beth C. Caldwell
Duke University Press, 2019, 248 pp.
The Migrant Passage: Clandestine Journeys From Central America
By Noelle Kateri Brigden
Cornell University Press, 2018, 264 pp.
During the Obama administration, nearly three million people were deported from the United States, a large majority of them to Mexico. As a result, nearly half a million deportees who grew up in the United States, many identifying as Americans, now live in Mexico, where they have struggled to adapt. Drawing on heart-rending interviews with deportees, Caldwell argues that “deportation is particularly cruel for functional Americans. It not only undermines family connections, career paths, and other attachments, but also strikes at the core of people’s identities.” Caldwell finds shock, trauma, shame, resentment, loneliness, and rejection among her interviewees, even as some eventually succeed in new ventures. She reminds readers that before the U.S. Congress reformed the immigration system in 1996, courts could allow immigrants to remain based on such mitigating factors as their family ties, how long they had lived in the United States, and their employment history. Caldwell decries the inconsistencies between the legal definition of citizenship and people’s experiences of rootedness. She argues that citizenship should be based on a person’s cultural associations rather than on national boundaries.
Brigden catalogs the immense suffering of poverty-stricken Central Americans who try to cross Mexico in search of better lives in the United States. Drawing on hundreds of interviews, Brigden recounts tales of wanton violence, torture, rape, kidnapping, and extortion. Empowered by states that make immigration illegal and risky, organized gangs, drug cartels, corrupt police and immigration authorities, and random opportunists prey on desperate migrants. In Brigden’s impassioned drama, the migrants appear as abused and vulnerable victims but also as agents challenging state sovereignty and improvising survival strategies. (To avoid detection, Central Americans crossing Mexico learn to impersonate local accents.) Brigden also tells the stories of the Good Samaritans, churches, and safe houses that help migrants along the way. Her vivid descriptions of the treacherous road northward help explain why migrants seek safety in numbers by forming caravans.