Issue Brief: Broken Hope: Deportation’s Harms and The Road Home

By Lynn Tramonte and Suma Setty

What if you were forced to pack your belongings and leave your family, friends, career, home, and life behind? Could you say good-bye to everyone and everything you love, not knowing if you will see them again? That is what deportation is: permanent banishment from your home, family, friends, and job, from a life built over years. It is an extreme action that causes lasting harm to everyone it touches.

From 2022 to 2023, Maryam Sy, an organizer with the Ohio Immigrant Alliance (OHIA), spent hundreds of hours interviewing over 250 people who were deported to find out what they wanted the world to know.

“A lot of these people went through, I think, the hardest part of their life when they were deported,” she reflected. “Because it was like a broken hope, like the government broke their hope. They came to America to seek asylum for a better life.”

Immigration detention and deportation unravels lives, with crushing consequences for children, partners, parents, and communities. Broken Hope connects the experiences of individuals with studies that show these harms are universal. And it details how deportation is an extreme response to a visa problem.

This issue brief summarizes a book Broken Hope: Deportation and the Road Home, a collaboration between the OHIA and the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) that highlights the experiences, hopes, and dreams of 255 people who were deported from the United States, as well as their loved ones, the majority of whom are of African origin. The book highlights stories that are rarely told, with a focus on Black immigrants. They are part of OHIA’s #ReuniteUS campaign, which seeks to change policy so that more people who were deported can return. 

CONTENT WARNING: Broken Hope discusses topics such as deportation, family separation, self-harm and suicide, murder, death, and trauma experienced by adults and children.

Said Goura Ndiaye, “It’s not easy to be in a country for almost twenty years and build your life and one day, it stops. It’s a long way to get experience in another country. To learn English. To go to school at nighttime. To learn. Go to work. And then one day they say stop. You don’t have it [anymore], you have to leave. The day [ICE] told me that — it was the end of the world for me.”

Meet the people who make up #ReuniteUS

Sy interviewed 255 beloved community members born in 27 countries, primarily in Africa. They built lives in at least 20 U.S. states, with a median residency of 17 years. Two hundred and eleven know two or more languages, and 83 know at least four. As a group, they speak more than 22 languages.

Seventy-three are parents of a child or children living in the United States, and nine of the people interviewed are married to citizens. Many worked legally while in the U.S., paying taxes and accruing Social Security retirement income they can no longer access after deportation. Those who had businesses were forced to close them. Families who have mortgages are struggling to keep their homes.

Seven people returned to the U.S. legally after the Biden administration took office, and at least one has a green card. Four people died after being deported. Most are still fighting to reunite with their families while trying to stay safe in their countries of origin or find a new home.

They matter

Said another person interviewed by Maryam Sy, “I have a daughter, and I miss her. She needs me in [her] life. I just want to have a life, I can’t survive in Africa. In America I had an opportunity to see my daughter grow. I want my daughter to grow up with me. I want her to know who I am.”

As a result of deportation, individuals and families, including young children and people of advanced age, experience:

Economic insecurity, including lack of access to food, housing, health care, and childcare; serious mental health problems, resulting in self-harm and long-term damage; Adverse Childhood Experiences, toxic stress, and poor physical health; disruption of education and career goals; persecution, exploitation, homelessness, and a lack of safety; the stress and financial strain of becoming a “single parent” unwillingly and overnight; feeling powerless to help the people they love; and fractured bonds and relationships.

The fallout of deportation impacts the person who is deported and everyone it touches. Removing valued individuals from their families and communities weakens both, as well as society as a whole.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. The impact of deportation is a human-made problem, and the solution is also in the hands of people.

The road to return exists, but leadership and action are needed

Broken Hope: Deportation and the Road Home lays out steps that the Executive Branch, Congress, the media, and the immigration movement should take to center the experiences of deported people and their families and pave their paths home.

The long-term goal of #ReuniteUS is bigger than return. It’s a shift in paradigm, a vision for a future where immigration laws are fair and humane. Where the system is designed based on what is good for people and society, not racism, repression, and harm.

Read the book!

The book contains more observations from the #ReuniteUS interviews, data from other research, and examples of how racism led to the drafting of specific immigration laws. Learn how immigration policy and trends changed—and didn’t—between the Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations.

Read the #ReuniteUS back-story, from the community response to workplace immigration raids to the Black Mauritanian men and others who organized inside U.S. immigration jails to stop deportations and end detention contracts.

Meet Ibrahima, Goura, Saidu, Tina, Issa, Jesus, Demba, Alfredo, Seyni, Brigido, Fatimata, Seydou, and Abdoulaye: heroes, survivors, and strivers all. They are intelligent, kind, and hard-working people who for a time found safety in the United States.

Their dream is to come back home.

>>Read the brief.

See also the authors’ presentation at CLASP in February 2024.

>>Download the presentation.