No Caption Needed is a book and a blog, each dedicated to discussion of the role that photojournalism and other visual practices play in a vital democratic society. No caption needed, but many are provided. . . .

February 23rd, 2009

Fly Air ICE and Repatriate in Comfort

Posted by Lucaites in no caption needed

One thing that nearly everyone on the political spectrum seems to agree about is that the U.S. immigration bureaucracy is an incredible mess.  Of course, there is no consensus on what the problems are, let alone the solutions, but there truly doesn’t seem to be anyone who thinks that the status quo is acceptable.  I suppose that’s a start, but if we are going to make any real progress we need to come to some agreement over key terms, and there, of course, is the rub, for at the heart of the issue of  immigration policy is a disagreement over terms: is the problem a matter of  “undocumented immigrants” or “illegal aliens”?

I was led to think about this problem this past week when I came across a photo-essay in the Chicago Tribune on “Flight Repatriate,” one of a fleet of Boeing 737s contracted by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to “expedite the removal” of  “illegal immigrants” to their “homeland,” often in Central or South America, but also Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.  Since October 2007 ICE Air has transported more than 367,000 immigrants to their countries of origin (a 77% increase in the number of deportations since 2006), the vast majority of whom have lived peaceful and law abiding lives within the US borders, notwithstanding their designation as “illegal.”  Animated by a desire for “cost effectiveness and safety,” Air ICE flights include “sandwiches, cheese and crackers, fruit, bottled water, civilian clothing, checked baggage and a private nurse.” As one ICE official put it, “there is no reason why we can’t treat them with as much respect as is possible.” Indeed, “nonviolent” passengers can even have their shackles and handcuffs removed on international flights.  It is hard to imagine how anyone could complain.  And yet …

From the moment of its origins the U.S. has been a land of immigrants, and across the broad expanse of that history the vast majority of those immigrants—starting with the pilgrims and moving forward—have been “undocumented.”  The development of the modern nation-state changed all of that, of course, but not even a bureaucratic sensibility can mitigate the irony of castigating “undocumented immigrants” as “illegal aliens.”  The doubled shift in terms is much to the point, as the absence of documentation becomes not just a sign of exclusivity, i.e., non-citizenship, but of criminality, just as one’s status as an immigrant becomes a sign of alterity that warrants a stigmatizing alienation further marked by the presumed need for armed guards, caged busses, and shackles and handcuffs.

Some undocumented immigrants might be criminals (rather like, say, some Wall Street bankers and financiers can be criminals) or even dangerous individuals, but it is somewhat churlish to designate and treat them as such simply because they lack the proper documentation—or at least one might imagine that a democratic society would adopt a more liberal and humane attitude towards such persons. 

But then again, perhaps one can’t be too careful.  After all, in the right hands even a three inch heel can be a deadly, dangerous weapon. 

Photo Credits: Alex Garcia/Chicago Tribune


3 Responses to ' Fly Air ICE and Repatriate in Comfort '

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  1. La Cabeza said,

    on February 23rd, 2009 at 4:38 am

    Welcome to the disgusting, paranoid irony that has become the United States of America. Frankly, throughout this nation’s history, there have always been groups that have been allowed in as “citizens of convenience,” then cast aside as undesirable once the cheap labor was no longer needed or jailed if the government became suspicious of their motives (Africans, Chinese, Japanese).

    Once the railroads were built and the robber barons made their millions, they convinced the government that there were too may Asian faces so the quota system shifted to exclude Asians. And thus it continues today.

    The problem is that the immigrants drank the “dream of America” Kool-aid. It works for those who look like they belong here and don’t raise suspicions, i.e. white people. I know because I live in a city where there are many Eastern Europeans living in cramped boarding houses and working below the radar. What are their repatriation numbers where ICE is concerned?

  2. Mike said,

    on March 7th, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Having been the pilot on over two hundred of these flights, I would like to commend you on slanting this story to suit your views by posting only pictures of people who are hancuffed and chained. The vast majority of passengers on these flights arrive planeside in a bus unrestrained, They remain unrestrained all the way to their destination country. The only instance in which a passenger is handcuffed and shackled is when that passenger has been deemed a criminal or convicted of a crime. The great majority of those restrained while being deported are MS-13 gang members.

  3. Lucaites said,

    on March 8th, 2009 at 10:11 am

    Mike: The photos we showed are the ones featured by the Chicago Tribune and a story which at least implicitly resists your narrative. Like most of the readers of that newspaper it is the only “direct” access we have to such phenomenon and experience. Your experience indicates something else altogether and it is a contradictory point that needs to be accounted for. That said, note too that pictures notwithstanding, the larger concern in the post above has less to do with deporting dangerous gang members but with 367,000 individuals defined as “illegal” only because they lack documentation. And, at least as the CT indicates, nonviolent individuals are unshackled on “international flights” which makes one wonder what happens on flight within the U.S.

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