In a September 23 Washington Post op-ed, contributing columnist Danielle Allen and Richard Ashby Wilson, a human rights law professor, warned that mass deportations like those repeatedly promised by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump have a dark and dangerous history. As explained by Allen and Wilson, one of the last times a policy like Trump’s was tried in a developed country was in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, an effort that spun out of control and led to ethnic cleansing.
Allen and Wilson detail how government efforts to target and systematically remove population groups have “repeatedly led to episodes that harm some severely, perhaps even mortally.” Indeed, what makes mass deportations like Trump’s so serious are that they are frequently combined with the same “racially tinged” elements the Republican nominee has encouraged: “heated rhetoric that slurs whole minority groups (“they’re not sending their best . . . they’re rapists”); an activist minority of white nationalists; an armed minority of militiamen; and the ongoing militarization of our police forces.” From the Post:
The time has come to get serious, really serious, about understanding what’s at stake with Donald Trump’s proposal to deport 5 million to 11 million undocumented immigrants and his promise that 2 million will be deported in “a matter of months” if he is elected.
In May, former homeland security secretary Michael Chertoff told the New York Times: “I can’t even begin to picture how we would deport 11 million people in a few years where we don’t have a police state, where the police can’t break down your door at will and take you away without a warrant.” He also said, “Unless you suspend the Constitution and instruct the police to behave as if we live in North Korea, it ain’t happening.”
The Bosnian deportations [in the former Yugoslavia] grew into a systematic policy termed “ethnic cleansing.” The U.N. Security Council declared forcible removal based on ethnicity a crime against humanity in 1994. And eventually there was also accountability for political leaders who enacted deportation policies and incited their followers to hatred and violence. In March 2016, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia found former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic guilty of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The tribunal ruled that his speeches and official propaganda made a significant contribution to an overarching joint criminal enterprise to create an ethnically homogenous state of Bosnian Serbs.
The notion that governments have learned how to conduct mass deportations in “humane and efficient” ways is ludicrous. The removal of millions of members of a minority ethnic or religious group from a territory has been accompanied, in nearly every historical instance, by assault, murder, crimes against humanity and, occasionally, genocide. It has involved armed roadblocks to check papers, the smashing down of doors in the night to drag people out of their homes. It has also involved unrestrained popular violence against a target population.