Race, Returns, and the Politics of Immigration Control: A Study of the Role of Voluntary Departure in U.S. Immigration Enforcement
This dissertation research builds on scholarship across a range of disciplines on the role of U.S. immigration law and enforcement practices in shaping immigrant racial identity. It asks how the use of voluntary departure in immigration enforcement has helped construct Mexicans as presumptively and perpetually alien to U.S. territory. Voluntary departure is an administrative procedure created in the early 20th century to remove certain immigrant groups in lieu of time-consuming and expensive deportation proceedings. Those who take voluntary departure waive their right to a deportation hearing and are not deported but are still required to leave. Today most required (i.e. forcible) departures of noncitizens (85%) have been carried out via voluntary departure—rather than deportation—and most are of Mexican nationals. Despite this, voluntary departure has largely escaped empirical examination. Existing historical accounts of voluntary departure are rather piecemeal, but together, they suggest that voluntary departure has served different immigration enforcement functions in different periods of time and that its application may have been disparate across immigrant groups (e.g. Mexicans vs. Europeans). These fragmented accounts beg further elaboration and synthesis. Through archival research and interviews, this dissertation seeks to contribute a robust narrative of voluntary departure’s origins and development over time, and to elucidate its role in race-based immigration enforcement against Mexican immigration.