Research on Deportation Trains

by Ethan Blue

Ethan Blue, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Western Australia, met with Gordon H. Chang of the Project in January 2015 to discuss his research on mass deportations in the U.S., particularly how railroads were employed.

Ironically, Chinese workers were integral to the building of the transcontinental railroads, yet the very same lines they built were used in an effort to expel them (and their inheritors), once their work was done. The deportation trains made constant circuits through the country from 1914 through the Second World War, when many were used in the forced relocation of Japanese Americans into internment camps. The deportation trains were developed to facilitate the mass expulsion of the Chinese and other so-called “undesirable aliens” – notably, those non-citizens with criminal convictions, deemed mad, politically radical, or those who were simply very poor (single mothers were high on the list, because they were “likely to become a public charge”).

Dr. Blue is investigating how the trains helped develop and set a precedent for a transnational system of forced removal, and how the trains’ economies of scale allowed the modern American state new means of social, economic, and political national control of non-citizens. His argument is that with the development of the deportation train, the federal government developed a coherent deportation apparatus that could attempt to realize the exclusionist dream of a white man’s country, free of the taint of criminal, mad, disabled, or radical non-citizens. While not directly pertaining to the Chinese work on the construction of the transcontinental railroad and its immediate aftermath, Dr. Blue’s research is a welcome reminder of the many consequences of that work.

For more information on Dr. Ethan Blue’s research, or if you have come across any information you think he might be interested in, he would love to hear from you. He can be reached at