Skip to main content
The Deportation Express: A History of America through Forced Removal (American Crossroads #61)

The Deportation Express: A History of America through Forced Removal (American Crossroads #61)

Current price: $29.95
Publication Date: October 19th, 2021
University of California Press
Usually Ships in 1 to 5 Days


A history of the United States' systematic expulsion of "undesirables" and immigrants, told through the lives of the passengers who travelled from around the world, only to be locked up and forced out aboard America's first deportation trains. 

The United States, celebrated as a nation of immigrants and the land of the free, has developed the most extensive system of imprisonment and deportation that the world has ever known. The Deportation Express is the first history of American deportation trains: a network of prison railroad cars repurposed by the Immigration Bureau to link jails, hospitals, asylums, and workhouses across the country and allow forced removal with terrifying efficiency. With this book, historian Ethan Blue uncovers the origins of the deportation train and finds the roots of the current moment, as immigrant restriction and mass deportation once again play critical and troubling roles in contemporary politics and legislation.
A century ago, deportation trains made constant circuits around the nation, gathering so-called "undesirable aliens"—migrants disdained for their poverty, political radicalism, criminal conviction, or mental illness—and conveyed them to ports for exile overseas. Previous deportation procedures had been violent, expensive, and relatively ad hoc, but the railroad industrialized the expulsion of the undesirable. Trains provided a powerful technology to divide "citizens" from "aliens" and displace people in unprecedented numbers. Drawing on the lives of migrants and the agents who expelled them, The Deportation Express is history told from aboard a deportation train. By following the lives of selected individuals caught within the deportation regime, this book dramatically reveals how the forces of state exclusion accompanied epic immigration in early twentieth-century America. These are the stories of people who traveled from around the globe, only to be locked up and cast out, deported through systems that bound the United States together, and in turn, pulled the world apart. Their journey would be followed by millions more in the years to come.

About the Author

Ethan Blue is Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Western Australia. He has published widely on the United States and Australian penal systems. He lives in Perth, Australia.

Praise for The Deportation Express: A History of America through Forced Removal (American Crossroads #61)

"More than simply documenting migrants’ trials and tribulations, Blue highlights the increasingly constricted lines around U.S. citizenship in the 1910s. . . . The Deportation Express makes a meaningful contribution as the first book to examine the mechanics of expulsion during 'the age of rail-based removal.'"
— Journal of Social History

"The Deportation Express is a breath of fresh air. It carefully combines theoretical understandings that provide insight into the inhumane practices of state control and violence, while using archival reproduction to illuminate narratives that center the human element in an inhumane system."
— Journal of Arizona History

"Blue’s decision to use a series of microhistories. . . . highlights the brutal impacts of forced deportation on individuals, and the injustices inherent within the developing American State and the capitalist system it both supported and depended on. The microhistories teach us much about the racism, violence and cruelty of the early-twentieth-century American immigration system, designed to provide capital with cheap labor from foreign workers who could then be spat out over the border when they no longer had use or value."
— Australasian Journal of American Studies

"The Deportation Express demonstrates how the United States emerged as a leader of global racial capitalism by this time, as well as the role that the immigration carceral state played in constructing and maintaining those hierarchies. . . . Blue’s detailed history of these early deportation trains provides an important foundation for understanding the 'twenty-first-century infrastructure of capture.'"
— Southwestern Historical Quarterly

"Offers valuable insights on how racism and exclusionary borders take shape through physical infrastructure. These insights can help us understand the terrible costs of war, and the true wages of peace, from the standpoint of the global majority."
— Public Books

"The Deportation Express is not only a true pleasure to read and a critical contribution to our understanding of state power and migration control in the early twentieth century. It is also a thoroughly moving account of the individuals and communities who experienced this power, and a model to historians seeking to craft nuanced, humanizing representations of their subjects."
— American Historical Review

"The Deportation Express is a story about each of us, as participants in an ongoing national experiment, and our collective work to shape our discourse, values, and identity as a United States community."
— Southern California Quarterly

"Elegantly written and amasses a monumental amount of research. . . . Ethan Blue’s book urges immigration activists and scholars to continue to embrace an abolitionist framework, tracing and disrupting the way that the immigration- and border-industrial complex are interwoven with and integral to the US settler-colonial, carceral state."
— Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books

"A valuable contribution to several growing fields. . . . Blue uncovers…the underlying vision of this “deportation regime” and its evolving historical entanglement with race and ethnicity in the era of U.S. immigration restriction."
— California History

"The Deportation Express presents a compelling and interesting history of American immigration enforcement. . . . a critical addition to many fields of inquiry including American history and studies as well as immigration studies."
— Society for U.S. Intellectual History