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The Efficacy and Impact of the Alien Transfer Exit Programme: Migrant Perspectives from Nogales, Sonora, Mexico



The Alien Transfer Exit Programme (ATEP) is a US deportation strategy created in 2008 whereby migrants are returned to border regions of Mexico distant from their initial place of apprehension. The goal of this strategy is to geographically separate migrants from their coyotes [paid crossing guide], who are often waiting for them in Mexico, in an attempt to discourage people from attempting additional border crossings. The official government stance concerning this programme is that it is both effective at deterring migration and that it protects migrants from abusive coyotes who often “force” them to cross the harsh Sonoran desert. The effectiveness of this new policy or its impact on the experiences of migrants has yet to be examined. Using a combination of ethnography and archaeology, I describe ATEP and its impacts on the social process of border crossing with an emphasis on the experiences of migrants who have been deported from California to the Mexican border town of Nogales. I argue that recent formalized deportation strategies such as ATEP build on previous lateral relocation programmes that have long been ineffective at slowing migration. In addition, ATEP contributes to sustaining previous migration control policies of exclusion (based on age, gender, and health) that now produce new dangers for both those included and excluded from this programme. ATEP should be viewed as an enforcement strategy aimed at systematically placing migrants in harm's way by relocating them geographically and by undermining the resources (i.e., human and social capital) that people have come to rely on for successful (and safer) border crossings. These findings contribute to the growing literature on the anthropology of deportation and the critical phenomenology of illegality.