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The Social Bulimia of Forced Repatriation: A Case Study of Dominican Deportees

David C. Brotherton and Luis Barrios

Frank Madera sits in a wheelchair facing the judge in an immigration appeals courtroom housed in a deportee detention center in upstate New York. Frank is 57 years old, blind due to lack of medical attention for cataracts while in prison, has suffered 5 strokes in the last couple of years, sits paralyzed down his right side, was diagnosed as bipolar a decade ago, suffers from Type 1 chronic diabetes, and is functionally illiterate. Frank has just served three years in a New York State prison after trying to burgle a house in the Bronx on the orders of local drug dealers. Frank came to the United States more than 50 years ago and lives with his 80-year-old mother. Frank has an estranged wife and a 21-year-old daughter. Frank’s lawyer, a pro-bono corporate attorney, tells the judge that if Frank is deported it will be a ‘death sentence.’ For six hours the judge listens intently to the appeal and to the government’s case. Finally he reads his decision. He concludes that there is no merit to Frank’s case and that while he might not receive adequate medical attention this does not amount to torture by the Dominican government. Therefore, he has no recourse but to forcibly repatriate Frank to what will be a speedy end to his life. (Field note, 8 February 2012) [1]

perspectives on the immigration-crime connection. In this chapter we examine both these issues through the concept of social bulimia (Young 1999, 2007, 2011). Drawing on 98 life history interviews with Dominican deportees (86 men and 12 women[2]) conducted in the Dominican Republic and the United States during the years 2002-2010, as well as in situ field observations of deportees and archival research related to Dominican deportation and the settlement of that community (see Brotherton and Barrios 2011), we focus on three stages of the bulimic cycle as they apply to the immigration/deportation process: (i) the seduction of the American Dream, Integration, and Othering; (ii) blurred boundaries, drifting, and pathways to crime; and (iii) the vindictiveness of prison and deportation.

  • [1] (DB) wrote these words after providing testimony as an expert witness, describingthe likely state of public health services awaiting Frank in the Dominican Republic.His story encapsulates the extraordinary punitive and vindictive sanctions that areregularly meted out to deportable aliens throughout the United States. Suchsanctions, which Daniel Kanstroom (2007) calls ‘post-entry social control’,emerged in the wake of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, beforeincreasing greatly after the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) and the Antiterrorism Effective Death Penalty Act, both of1996. It is important to understand what these pieces of legislation have meant forDominicans in the United States, a community that has long been the subject of‘targeted enforcement’, racial profiling, saturated policing, and intergenerationalpoverty (Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights 2007). It isalso important to consider their implications for criminological and sociological
  • [2] 2 Sixty of the deportees had been documented residents while 38 were undocumented, including 18who had returned illegally.
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