Book discussion with Patrisia Macías-Rojas

Christine Cha and Lina Hinh, Contributing Writers

Assistant Professor of Sociology and Latin American and Latino Studies Patrisia Macías-Rojas came to the University from the University of Illinois at Chicago on Jan. 22 to discuss her book “From Deportation to Prison: The Politics of Immigration Enforcement in Post-Civil Rights America.”  Her research, which spans over 10 years, includes fieldwork, interviews, and archival research. Macías-Rojas’ scholarship focuses on the problematic intersections between U.S. immigration policy and the criminal justice system, as well as the individuals who suffer as a result. She received her master’s degree and Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley, and taught in the Sociology Department at Sarah Lawrence College prior to joining the University of Illinois at Chicago.


Macías-Rojas stated that she was stopped a few times over the years while traveling back and forth across the border. She explained that she has family in Mexico who she visits a couple times throughout the year. “They would stop me and ask me questions as to why I was going back and forth so often. What I was doing with the baby in the car. It was difficult because of how they treated me,” she said. Even though she is native to the United States and traveling legally, her treatment was representative of wrongdoing despite her lack of lawbreaking. This kind of treatment eventually caused Macías-Rojas to begin questioning border regulations, policies, and immigration enforcement. She began her project believing her research would be cut and dry, but explained how she quickly learned the complexity of the border policing and policies.


When Macías-Rojas started her ethnography research, she realized she was concentrating too much on specific aspects and instead had to broaden her scope. “I started volunteering my time to interview people. It started with just border patrol, but I quickly realized I had to expand my interviews to the residents on the border. They are indirect and directly involved in helping police the border while also being watched themselves. They were the eyes and ears of the border. By the time I finished, I had amassed over 100 interviews,” Macías-Rojas said.


These interviews helped Macías-Rojas see the immigration problem in a different light.  What had really surprised her, she said, was that decisions to deport someone were based on the availability of beds. If someone was of legal status but not a citizen of the United States (i.e. green card holder), they would be detained for a small crime and eventually deported back to their country of origin in order to create space for the next wave of detainees.

Macías-Rojas appreciated the many thought-provoking questions asked during the lunch conversation. Even though she is proud of the work she has done, Macías-Rojas said she never imagined the extent of recognition her findings would receive. Most people may see a simple solution: if they are illegal, deport them. However, what Macías-Rojas has shown in her book is that border patrol is a more complex and involved situation.

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