From Deportation to Prison: The Politics of Immigration Enforcement in Post-Civil Rights America

Macías-Rojas, Patrisia

From Deportation to Prison traces the punitive turn in immigration and border policy to the Department of Homeland Security’s Criminal Alien Program (CAP), originally designed to purge noncitizens from jails and prisons and ushering in enforcement priorities that process immigrants according to criminal history and risk. Macías-Rojas argues that new enforcement priorities under the Criminal Alien Program, rooted in the post–civil rights era of mass incarceration and prison overcrowding, fundamentally transformed detention and deportation in ways that merged the immigration and criminal justice systems. Deportation and immigrant detention, then, are no longer merely vehicles to purge noncitizens from jails and prisons, as was CAPS’s original mission; they are now the chief mechanisms driving federal criminal prosecution and imprisonment for immigration offenses. From a political analysis of policymaking at the congressional level, Macías-Rojas turns to a street-level ethnographic account of how new enforcement priorities take hold on the Arizona-Mexico border, capturing the ways in which border agents, local law enforcement, activists, border residents, and migrants themselves contend with criminal enforcement priorities that distinguish between rights-bearing “victims” and rightsless “criminals.” Combining history and ethnography, this book shows how, when implemented on the U.S.-Mexico border, the Department of Homeland Security’s criminal enforcement priorities have created an enforcement context that recognizes rights for some undocumented migrants deemed “worthy” of state protection, while aggressively punishing and criminally branding others. In this post–civil rights enforcement context, criminalization goes hand in hand with “humanitarianism” centered on “victims’ rights.”