Black Deportees and the Surveillance State: Migration Control, Race, and Institutional Tracking in the Early 20th Century

Friday, January 5, 2018: 10:50 AM
Washington Room 3 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Emily Pope-Obeida, Harvard University
My paper will explore how deportation contributed to the growing national security state by providing a mechanism for uniting diverse elements of institutional control into a consolidated system for policing non-citizen residents. While scholars have noted the importance of the rise of the passport system and remote immigration controls in ports around the globe in the early 20th century, it is important to understand how increased documentation, surveillance, and bureaucratization shaped the development of the post-entry deportation state. While dramatic raids against radicals have garnered most attention, the surveillance systems that built the early deportation regime were generally both more mundane and therefore, more powerful. As immigration officials sought to identify, evaluate, and apprehend deportable immigrants, they built a national (and imperial) network of surveillance spaces which included both the overtly carceral (prisons, jails, reformatories), and the ostensibly beneficent (hospitals, asylums, welfare agencies) for the punishment and policing of non-citizenship. These practices of institutional coordination made possible the shift from deportation as a small-scale, haphazard practice to a powerful, centralized state mechanism for controlling non-citizens. I will particularly emphasize how this system disproportionately impacted Afro-Caribbean migrants, who were targeted by the state for political ideology, economic dependency, and perceived deviations from normative morality. From Marcus Garvey, whose 1927 deportation demonstrated the utility of migration control for silencing black political movements, to the numerous impoverished women deported for having children out of wedlock, state authorities increasingly recognized that institutional surveillance could enable deportation of “undesirable” black bodies within the nation-state.