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The Dispossessed offers what is perhaps the most complete narrative account of modern-day asylum and the politics of refusal that have come to define the current era.”

    -New York Review of Books

“In his new book The Dispossessed: A Story of Asylum at the US-Mexican Border and Beyond, John Washington masterfully exposes the ruthlessness of US border policy.”

   -Los Angeles Review of Books

"The Dispossessed reads like a novel. It is a beautiful and grievous tangle of history, reportage, philosophy, and testimony, with a structure and spirit somewhat reminiscent of Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia: firmly grounded storytelling charged with the clarity of social and historical analysis."


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Arnovis couldn’t stay in El Salvador. If he didn’t leave, a local gangster promised that his family would dress in mourning—that he would wake up with flies in his mouth. “It was like a bomb exploded in my life,” Arnovis said.

I wrote The Dispossessed to tell the story of a twenty-four-year-old Salvadoran man, Arnovis, whose family’s search for safety shows how the United States—in concert with other Western nations—has gutted asylum protections for the world’s most vulnerable. Crisscrossing the border and Central America, I trace his quest for safety as Arnovis is separated from his daughter by US Border Patrol agents and struggles to find security after being repeatedly deported to a gang-ruled community in El Salvador.

Adding historical, literary, and current political context to the discussion of migration today, I seek to fill in the history of asylum law and practice from ancient history to the present day. 


“In an era of massive and unprecedented human migration, John Washington documents in his poignant book how the poverty and violence powerful nations inflict on poor countries is a major reason so many flee their lives and families. Offering expansive historical analysis of how ancient religions, cultures, and societies understood the imperative of welcoming the outsider, particularly those seeking safety from harm or death, and contrasting it with our current world order, Washington has written one of the most important books of our time on one of the most dire systematic injustices on our planet. I read this book in one sitting because I simply couldn’t put it down.”

     –Jeremy Scahill, author of Dirty Wars

“John Washington delivers an absorbing, harrowing, and deeply moving reportage that renders the most thorough and critical assessment of the U.S. asylum system that I have ever read.”

      –Todd Miller, author of Empire of Borders

“Nobody would have read my book in the United States if it weren't for John. Ten years ago he understood that I had something to say about migration. He understood a decade ago something that I didn't. John is patient, meticulous, obsessive. First he understands--like few do--and then he writes. This is a book from someone who has been understanding for a long time, and now that he's come to write this book, he's done so with mastery, with patience, with humility, and without cliché. This book was written by a true expert about a topic that many pretend to understand.”

        –Óscar Martinez, author of The Beast

“The Dispossessed is one of the most beautiful and wrenching books I've read in a long time. We are becoming a stateless world, as the combined effects of climate change, war, and struggles of resources push people from their land and their homes. John Washington's book offers no easy answers, but in its empathy, it is a guide for how we confront the crisis with decency.”

        –Greg Grandin, Pulitzer Prize winning author of

          The End of the Myth

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