Monday, February 1, 2021

Elliott Young's "Forever Prisoners"

Elliott Young is Professor in the History Department at Lewis and Clark College. He is the author of Alien Nation: Chinese Migration in the Americas from the Coolie Era through WWII and Catarino Garza's Revolution on the Texas-Mexico Border and co-editor of Continental Crossroads: Remapping US-Mexico Borderlands History. He is co-founder of the Tepoztlán Institute for Transnational History of the Americas. He has also provided expert witness testimony for over 200 asylum cases and has written for the Huffington Post, the Oregonian, and the Utne Reader.

Young applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Forever Prisoners: How the United States Made the World's Largest Immigrant Detention System, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Forever Prisoners is about the clash between executive authority over foreign affairs and the putative constitutional rights that all people, whether authorized immigrants or not, have within the United States. During World War Two, Japanese Peruvians were kidnapped by the US military in Peru and forcibly brought to the United States to be placed in Immigration and Naturalization service (INS) camps as “enemy aliens.” Even though they were forced to come to the United States, the legal basis for their detention was “illegal entry,” an argument that is so bizarre that it would make Kafka blush. Courts refused to review how the Japanese Peruvians arrived in the country, claiming that this was beyond their jurisdiction, and only upheld the grounds that these individuals had indeed arrived on US soil without authorization. The ulterior motive for these detentions was to exchange these Japanese Peruvians for American civilians captured by the Japanese.

This page gets at one of the central arguments of the book, which is the twisted logic of immigration law and the way that non-citizens in the United States often find themselves subject to detention without the benefit of constitutional protections given the courts deference to executive prerogative in foreign affairs and over immigration. The book covers 140 years of history and the episode involving Japanese Peruvians is just one of the many ways non-citizens have been detained for indefinite periods of time with little recourse to legally challenge their imprisonment. Yet, if a reader was to just read this one page, they would understand the central assertion of the book that the US government has used the immense coercive apparatus of the state to deny liberty to immigrants and other foreign-born people in the country. We stand on the precipice of the possibility for a dramatic shift in the way the new Biden government will approach immigration, but to make true progress, he must move beyond the past 140 years of immigration restrictions and not just the last four years of Trumpism.
Learn more about Forever Prisoners at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue