Despite its well-documented benefits to sending and receiving countries, human migration has become one of the most contested themes in global politics.
Despite its well-documented benefits to sending and receiving countries, human migration has become one of the most contested themes in global politics. For instance, while Central Americans flee corruption and gang violence by moving north and Africans migrate to Europe seeking economic and political stability, both migrant groups are facing a systematic roll-back of rights in receiving countries in order to facilitate their exclusion and deportation. In the United States, the devolution of immigration enforcement from the federal to the local scale has resulted in widespread vulnerability for immigrants, including those living far from the border. Despite the growing scholarship on immigration enforcement and control across North America and Europe, however, the literature does not sufficiently account for and theorize the largely unseen institutional networks of ‘petit sovereigns’ that decide who is arrested, detained, and deported. To address this crucial gap, I propose the ‘regional assemblages of deportation’ framework in order to understand the dynamic, contested, and everyday nature of deportation as an exercise of state power. This framework relies upon a multi-sited, multi-institutional, grounded account not only of the deportation process itself, but also of the social determinates of deportation as part of broader systems of racialization, labor exploitation, and the criminalization of immigrant communities. The paper is organized in three parts. First, I outline the theoretical foundations of the ‘regional assemblage’ framework, particularly its roots in the critical legal and political geographies of state power, and discuss its methodological orientations. Second, I trace the emergence of one such regional assemblage in the US Midwest that grew in the late-2000s as part of a national trend towards aggressive immigration enforcement practices. Third, I use this analysis to contextualize the corresponding emergence of pro-immigrant rights politics in the region, and to illustrate how the ‘disruptive politics’ of immigrant-led activism can make regional assemblages of deportation more visible and contestable.
Austin Kocher graduated in 2017 with a PhD in geography from the Ohio State University, and currently teaches geography and immigration courses at the University of Michigan and Western Governors University. His dissertation, Notice to Appear: Immigration Courts and the Legal Production of Illegalized Immigrants, focused on the legal geographies of the US immigration court system as a pillar of immigration enforcement.