About the Initiative

The Deportation Crisis: 
Although deportation has long been a widespread practice of the United States government, its history has been completely overshadowed by the popular narrative that "we" are a nation of immigrants. In fact, noted scholars have estimated that more than 40 million U.S. residents have been involved in deportation proceedings since the country's birth and that our current deportation laws owe much of their language and legal reasoning to the Fugitive Slave Acts of the 1850s, the Chinese-Exclusion Acts of the 1880s and the forced removal of Mexican workers known as Operation Wetback of the 1950s (Kanstroom, 2010).  In the current era, the passage of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (ADEPA) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) in 1996 dramatically overhauled the entire immigration system and transformed it into a system whose main aim is to detain and deport immigrants.  These changes resulted in the deportation of over 1 million immigrants from 1996-2007 (Human Rights Watch, 2007).  Despite his rhetoric as a presidential candidate, the Obama administration has continued the deportation policies of both the Clinton and Bush administrations and even extended its reach into vulnerable immigrant communities.

Indeed, the past few years have been marked by historic lows for immigrants wedged at the intersection of the criminal justice and immigration systems.  The Obama administration’s deportation program, which has expelled more people than any other administration in U.S. history (Kanstroom, 2012), has left families torn apart, undocumented students without access to adequate educational and professional opportunities and whole communities decimated by deportation.  From 2001 to 2010, the yearly rate of actual deportations rose well over 100%, to almost 400,000 removals per year (Kanstroom, 2012).  The deportation crisis has meant that for undocumented and documented immigrants alike, the increasingly restrictive definition of legal status in the United States has led to an explosion in the kinds of civil and criminal violations that make someone deportable.  The general tone of attack has been heightened with the implementation of scores of state laws and policies, from Arizona to New York which target, profile, arrest and lock up people “suspected of being undocumented”.  Indeed, the cornerstone of the Obama administration’s immigration policy has been to deputize local police officers to be immigration enforcement agents.  In addition to compromising community policing efforts to build trust with immigrants, these efforts led to the violation of immigrants’ constitutional rights (Morawetz, 2009).    

Through programs like, Secure Communities (SComm), 287(g) and the Criminal Alien Program (CAP), local officers are being authorized and required to identify and detain immigrants for deportation via the criminal justice system.  Locally, in 2011, while Governor Andrew Cuomo decided not to implement SComm in New York, the federal government dealt a blow to the state by declaring that participation in the program was not optional.  All non-citizens, including green-card holders, undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers and immigrants from around the world will be at greater risk now that SComm has been accepted as policy in New York State (NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, Immigrant Defense Project, and Families for Freedom, 2012).  Moreover, although Blacks and Latinos each made up 25 and 28 percent of the city’s population respectively, between 2005-2008, they account for more than 80 percent of stop-and-frisk encounters with the New York Police Department (NYPD) (Center for Constitutional Rights, 2009). The dual impact of SComm combined with NYPD’s much maligned track record on involuntary stops in communities of color will result in more immigrants being put on a conveyor belt into deportation proceedings via the criminal justice system. 

This merger of the criminal justice and immigration systems is the key nexus through which immigrants are brought into the deportation system (NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, Immigrant Defense Project, and Families for Freedom, 2012).  Current proposals for a comprehensive immigration reform bill from Congress and the President offer little hope for stemming the flow of expulsions and will, in their current form, without question increase the detention and deportation of migrants.  An even cursory analysis of the current deportation system raises compelling questions about who benefits and who loses in these systems, the nature of belonging and citizenship, the role of globalization and what current trends toward “managing migration” mean in a globalized world.      
As the nation’s preeminent leader in educating for justice, John Jay College recognizes this as a critical moment to deepen our institutional analysis about the complex causes and consequences of the modern deportation crisis.   

Initiative Objective:
John Jay College is launching a campus-wide thematic initiative to highlight the past, present and future of deportation policy in the United States and its intricate roots and societal impacts. Over the course of a full academic semester (September-December 2013), this initiative will bring the often hidden realities of deportation into fuller relief for John Jay College’s students, faculty and staff.  Through art installations, film screenings, faculty-led dramatic plays and an oral history project, an opening panel discussion, a symposia series, several student-driven projects, and a closing student-community forum, the initiative aims to deepen and nuance the college community’s understanding of deportation; with the ultimate goal of generating advocacy to resist the increasing criminalization of migrant life. 

Initiative Goals:
The aims of this initiative are to:

  • Engage student and faculty leadership in the development and implementation of the initiative
  • Educate the John Jay College community about the current immigration policies and deportation crisis
  • Deepen institutional understanding of how deportation impacts the John Jay College community and beyond
  • Construct a multidisciplinary analysis of current deportation policy and practices  
  • Deepen and develop new partnerships and share learnings with local, national and international community-based allies and educators
  • Debate and craft policy recommendations that will end the criminalization of migrant life
  • Publicize and store end products of the initiative on an interactive webpage accessible beyond the life of the initiative itself and available to the public

John Jay College’s Expertise
With nearly 15,000 students, John Jay College’s student body is a microcosm of the bustling diversity and immigrant history of New York City.  The demographic profile of the college bears this out, with fully 65% of our students coming from underrepresented minority groups, including first and second generation immigrants.  In a city where more than 3 million of its 8 million residents are foreign born, the impact of deportations has been severely felt throughout the community.  Students, parents, workers, and others in NY have struggled with the brutal realities of the current deportation regime.  Data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency charged with carrying out deportations, show that from October 2005 through December 2010 a total of 34,329 New Yorkers were apprehended for deportation (NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, Immigrant Defense Project, and Families for Freedom, 2012).  John Jay College has responded to this expanding crisis by becoming a center for research and curriculum development around the issue of deportation. 

John Jay has long been at the forefront in bringing attention to the deportation problem, co-organizing the first deportation conference in the Caribbean in 2003 (in Santo Domingo) and one of the first in the U.S. in 2004 (at the College). John Jay College has a rich history of research and scholarship on deportation, both as an institution and in the work of its individual faculty.  Past institutional initiatives have included the one-day 'Issues of Immigration in Criminal Justice' conference as well as the symposium series event, 'Immigration and the Dream Act,' both held in the spring of 2012.  Faculty scholarship in the area includes Sociology Chair David Brotherton’s and Latina/o Studies Professor Luis Barrios' acclaimed book Banished to the Homeland, Law &Police Science Professor Monica Varsanyi's edited volume, Taking Local Control, and the recently published Outside Justice, co-edited with Brotherton by two of John Jay's Criminal Justice doctoral students, Dan Stageman and Shirley Leyro.

John Jay College has also worked to foster a tradition of campus-wide efforts to focus our community’s attention on vital criminal and social justice issues.  This focus on being a space that nurtures understanding and critical thinking could be seen in the multidisciplinary Spring 2011 series entitled: Mosques, Veils and Madrassas: Muslims and Institutions of Justice in Pluralistic Societies, which highlighted the emerging role of Islam and the Muslim population in pluralistic democracies.  The John Jay College community also heeded the call to advocate against torture in a month-long immersion project entitled Amnesty International Torture Awareness Campaign in fall 2010.  In short, we have a proven record of developing timely and relevant programming to deepen the conversation around issues central to the life of our educational community and beyond.  

Initiative Outcomes:
The initiative will be successful if we:

Develop curricula for and roll out at least 3 semester-long courses focused on the history, causes, impact and future of current U.S. deportation policies and practices

  • Co-host a lecture series on immigration/deportation 
  • Engage students to develop a project to highlight the impact of deportation on John Jay College’s student body
  • Screen a deportation themed film and conduct a post film discussion
  • Exhibit art installation related to the issue of immigration and deportation throughout the semester
  • Generate new faculty and student research and publications on deportation
  • Present student research and exhibits from a summer 2013 study-abroad trip to the Dominican Republic
  • Host several theatrical plays about deportation
  • Hold a community forum on deportation related issues
  • Showcase students’ creative work and critical writing on deportation related issues

All academic work, research, exhibits, presentations, performances, and other documentation created through the initiative will be preserved on a website specifically created for this project. A Facebook page will also be created and remain active to provide visitors with an opportunity to continue discussions and exchange feedback on the initiative’s events as well as on emerging issues about deportation.   A report will be completed at the end of the semester to evaluate progress against plan.  In particular, the report will review individual events, overall campus involvement, resulting publications, collaborations and networking, and the successes and challenges of funding the initiative.


Center for Constitutional Rights. (2009). Racial Disparity in NYPD Stops-and-Frisks. New York: Center for Constitutional Rights.
Human Rights Watch. (2007). Forced Apart: Families Separated adn Immigrants Harmed by United States Deportation Policy. New York: Human Rights Watch .
Kanstroom, D. (2010). Deportation Nation: Outsiders in American History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Kanstroom, D. (2012). Aftermath: Deportation Law and the New American . New York: Oxford University Press USA.
Morawetz, N. a. (2009, April). Legal Issues in Local Police Enforcement of Federal Immigration Law. Ideas in American Policing, 69-90.
NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, Immigrant Defense Project, and Families for Freedom. (2012). Insecure Communities, Devastated Families: New Data on Immigrant Detention and Deportation Practices in New York City. New York: NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic.


For any questions, please contact Bettina Muenster, bmuenster@jjay.cuny.edu